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LYONS: The key Benghazi questions still unanswered
Nothing less than all the answers is acceptable
We now have the so-called Independent Accountability Review Board report on the Sept. 11 attack on our Benghazi special mission compound. While it concludes there was no spontaneous mob protest outside the compound, it fails to provide answers to many key questions. For example, it does not address why the Obama administration continued to lie to the American public for the better part of two weeks, saying that the attack on our consulate was mob violence that got out of control over a 14-minute anti-Islamic video that few had seen. Some officials, including former CIA Director David H. Petreaus, apparently lied to Congress, which is a felony.
Another finding of the review board was that there was no advance warning of an impending attack, an assertion that strikes at the board’s credibility. Aside from the significance of the Sept. 11 anniversary date, the facts indicate that there was both strategic and tactical warning of an impending attack. There were numerous reports put out by the Benghazi compound, our Tripoli embassy and even Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens concerning the deteriorating security situation in eastern Libya, including Benghazi. It was well known that there were uncontrolled, well-armed militias, many of which were al Qaeda-affiliated, roaming freely throughout eastern Libya.
We know in June 2012 both the International Red Cross and the United Kingdom closed their offices in Benghazi after an attempted terrorist attack on the British ambassador and assassinations of others. On June 6, a bomb exploded outside the wall of the U.S. special mission compound. The CIA was tracking for several months the movements of one of the leaders of the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist group that carried out the attack on our mission. How could the CIA not detect the planning or the movement of the jihadists who carried out the “organized” attack?
On Sept. 10, a video featuring al Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahri calling on Libyans to avenge the U.S. killing of a Libyan al Qaeda leader certainly should have been a red flag for Stevens and the compound, but the report is silent on this and other issues. On the morning of Sept. 11, we know that one of the Libyan police officers assigned to guard the mission was seen taking pictures of the inside of the compound. A memo found later stated that the ambassador found this to be “troubling.”
We know that on the afternoon of Sept. 11, the Blue Mountain Security manager who provided the guards for the Benghazi compound sensed that something was wrong and put out an alert on his radio and cellphone. According to media reports, there were roadblocks and check points set up well in advance of the attack. The last person to see Stevens was the Turkish consul general, who likely had to pass through these roadblocks. He told columnist Diana West that he didn’t notice anything unusual — a questionable assertion. The report concludes that there was no immediate tactical warning of the impending attack. This is mind-boggling.
With regard to the lack of a U.S. military response to the attacks, the report does not shed any new light on the Pentagon position that there simply was not sufficient time for U.S. forces outside of Libya to respond. The best the military could muster was positioning an unarmed surveillance drone over the compound about 90 minutes after the attack started.
It has been reported that Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta gave verbal approval to prepare two Marine anti-terrorist teams based in Rota, Spain, for deployment to Benghazi and Tripoli, but it took the first team 23 hours to transit the several hundred miles to Tripoli. The second team was never deployed because officials stated U.S. personnel were already evacuated from Benghazi. This makes no sense, since the second team could have secured the U.S. mission compound, which is U.S. territory, prevented further looting and permitted immediate access by the FBI to gather valuable intelligence information. Why we did not secure the Benghazi mission compound is another unanswered question. What is it that our personnel were kept from seeing?
The record needs to be set straight on U.S. force availability. The report makes no mention of the 130-man, fully armed and well-led Marine Force-Recon unit that was on the ground in Sigonella, Sicily, and could have been in Benghazi in a matter of a few hours. Likewise, in similar circumstances, an effective tactic for dispersing a mob is to have a fighter aircraft make a low pass in full after-burner, but this was not mentioned in the report.
Aside from U.S. resources, the report does not discuss why we didn’t request security assistance from the Turkish or Italian Benghazi consulates or the British security team that reportedly was at the mission compound only one hour before the attack. Each has stated that they would have provided support but were never asked. Why?
Another key question which must be answered is what important activity was being conducted at our Benghazi mission compound to cause Stevens to have to be there on the night of Sept. 11 to meet the Turkish consul general, even though he feared for his safety? According to various reports, one of Stevens‘ main missions was to facilitate the transfer of military equipment to jihadists and other Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, which also fought our forces in Iraq.
This is a major betrayal that cost the lives of four Americans. Congress needs to form a special bipartisan investigative committee to uncover the facts and make them known to the American public. Nothing less is acceptable.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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