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As the annex took sporadic fire, it was the evening of Sept. 11 back in Washington, where policymakers’ discussions of what to do were remarkable for what did not happen.

Mrs. Clinton later told Congress that she worked the phones to get the local Libyan government to protect the Americans, but no troops came to the annex.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, were at the White House on another matter and mentioned the attack to the president. Mr. Obama told them to handle the crisis. The president’s exact actions afterward are not known. He left the next day for a campaign event in Las Vegas. He did not convene a meeting of his National Security Council.

Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey returned to the Pentagon and conferred with Army Gen. Carter Ham, then chief of Africa Command who was in Washington as opposed to his headquarters at Stuttgart, Germany.

Though running for more than four years, and with volatile North Africa a key focus, Africom controlled few of its own forces. It had no emergency response team or warplanes. The best it could do in the short run was to fly two unarmed Predator drones, one at a time, to watch the mean streets of Benghazi.

It took Mr. Panetta two to four hours to mobilize a fast-reaction commando team at Fort Bragg, N.C., and send it, not to Libya, but to a NATO base across the Mediterranean in Sicily. Gen. Ham borrowed European Command’s commander’s in extremis force. But it was on a training mission in Croatia and needed time to reassemble and get transportation to Sicily.

Both teams arrived at the NATO base on the afternoon of Sept. 12, way too late. The crisis had ended.

Gen. Ham’s last option: F-16s parked at the NATO base in Aviano, Italy. With no good intelligence on whom to bomb at Benghazi and no tanker to refuel the F-16s, the fighters never launched.

The embassy team arrived at the Benghazi airport around 1:15 a.m. local time after negotiating a chartered flight because State had taken away its passenger plane. It took hours to leave the airport as diplomats arranged vehicles and security. The team did not arrive at the annex until 5 a.m.

At that time, extremists launched three mortar rounds. The first missed. But the attackers showed their artillery skills by scoring direct hits on the roof where ex-SEALs Woods and Doherty were protecting the annex by returning fire. No support came. Their bodies were retrieved by the rescue team.

By 6:30 a.m., more than eight hours after the mission was set ablaze, a convoy left the annex for the airport.

In Tripoli, during the annex attack, Mr. Hicks negotiated the use of a Libyan C-130 to fly reinforcements to Benghazi to secure the airport. Four Army Special Forces soldiers assigned to the embassy were ready to go.

“It was every reason to continue to believe that our personnel were in danger,” Mr. Hicks later told Congress.

But it was a no-go. The officer in charge told Mr. Hicks that his commanders within Africa Command nixed the trip.

The day after, Washington

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