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“Their presence grows every day,” Army National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood would later tell the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “They are certainly more established than we are.”

That winter, Col. Wood commanded a 16-member site security team of Army Green Berets based in Tripoli. His men were in country because they wielded the kind of high-caliber firepower needed to combat militants armed with grenade launchers and mortars.

“Superior weapons and superior tactics,” Col. Wood said. “That’s what the [site security team] brought to the table. Those were the qualities and attributes and the bolstering effect that they added.”

Also troubling for the State Department’s Libyan stations: Neither the embassy nor the Benghazi compound met basic construction standards to protect diplomats.

“That was the major cause of concern, and that was the main physical security issue that we continued to raise,” testified Eric Nordstrom, the top diplomatic security officer in Libya.

By June, the Benghazi compound consisted of one wall and four buildings, and was guarded by up to five of Mr. Nordstrom’s personnel, a few Libyan private security guards and the Libyan February 17 Martyrs Brigade, which lived in a compound barracks and worked out of a nearby CIA annex.

The embassy watched as militants stepped up attacks.

Radical Islamists attacked the International Red Cross building repeatedly. A terrorist placed a homemade bomb at the consulate wall. Even though Libyan guards saw him, his time-delayed explosive went off and blew a huge hole in the wall.

Next, terrorists attacked a convoy transporting the British ambassador. Britain quickly evacuated, leaving the U.S. as the only Western power in Benghazi.

“When that occurred, it was apparent to me that we were the last flag flying in Benghazi,” Col. Wood said. “We were the last thing on their target list to remove from Benghazi.”

Security requests denied

The colonel and Mr. Nordstrom were fighting a long-distance battle of emails and phone calls with the State Department to maintain a large security presence.

But Charlene Lamb, who was in charge of international programs for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, rejected their requests. State wanted to create a picture of normal operations in Libya.

“We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon,” Ms. Lamb told the committee, noting that five diplomatic security officers were in Benghazi, the number that had been requested.

But further firepower was missing. On July 9, the embassy sent a cable to State seeking at least a 60-day extension for SST and other security personnel. It was denied.

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