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“They just have to be overhead, flying the flag,” he said, noting that Air Force doctrine recognizes the effectiveness of the mere presence of air power in counterinsurgency conflicts.

Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, in testifying about the report before Congress last week, said no troops were deployed because it “appeared as if the incident was dying down” after the wave of attacks.

Mr. Rustmann said State Department officials “were crossing their fingers and hoping it would go away that everyone would be OK. But they weren’t OK.”

“Our force posture was a disaster,” he said.

Mr. McCain on Friday asked why military units had not been prepared to respond to an emergency in Libya, noting previous attacks on Western interests in Benghazi.

The assault on the consulate “should have been a foreseeable contingency,” he said. “It’s essential the Defense Department conduct a similar independent and comprehensive accountability [investigation].”

Other critics focused on the role of White House staff during the attack.

The report notes that “senior-level interagency discussions continued through the night” as the attack unfolded at two nearby locations. But it gives no details about who took part.

“What did [Mr. Obama] do for the seven hours in question?” Mr. Graham said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, questioned whether investigators had looked high enough into the hierarchy at the State Department.

Ms. Ayotte said the report notes serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and eastern Libya, which was a hotbed of al Qaeda sympathizers. The board also said that State Department personnel in Libya asked for more security several times, but that Washington officials rejected those requests.

“If that did go up to the chain of command, why weren’t actions taken?” Ms. Ayotte asked.

In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Mr. Burns said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior officials had been briefed about the security situation in Libya, but decisions about security were made at the assistant secretary level.

Four State Department officials who are criticized by the report were relieved of their duties last week. Of the three who were identified, each held a position at the assistant secretary or deputy assistant secretary level.

Republicans also have raised concerns about how some top administration officials initially and inaccurately said the attack had grown out of protests over a U.S.-made anti-Islam video.

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