No U.S. Marines were in Libya when protesters stormed a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi and killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans late Tuesday, a senior Obama administration official said Saturday.
The official’s comments were intended to correct previous statements by administration officials who said a small contingent of Marines was stationed at State Department facilities in the North African nation.
The U.S. diplomatic compound breached Tuesday by Libyan protesters in Benghazi had a relatively light security posture compared to diplomatic facilities in other conflict zones.
Marines are guarding diplomatic facilities in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, Defense Press Secretary George Little told reporters Thursday.
“The State Department has the lead for embassy security around the world. Naturally, if they ask for our advice in given situations, we’ll offer it up, no question about it,” Mr. Little said in response to a question about who plans security at embassies and diplomatic facilities.
Part of the reason Marines were not stationed at the Benghazi compound is that it is not an embassy or consulate, but a “diplomatic mission,” officials said.
In some conflict zones, State Department officials work in buildings other than embassies or consulates in order to conduct “expeditionary diplomacy” — establishing an initial presence and building a relationship with locals, as in post-revolution Libya, officials said.
Senior administration officials described the facility in Benghazi as an “interim” one that the State Department had acquired before the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, consisting of a main building and several ancillary buildings, as well as an annex farther away.
The Pentagon has deployed a 50-man Marine platoon to the Libyan capital of Tripoli to protect U.S. citizens and the embassy.
“If called upon, we would obviously provide support to our State Department colleagues to provide additional security at embassies,” Mr. Little said.