In a unique battlefield commendation, a Marine Corps member of Delta Force has been awarded the nation’s second-highest military honor for coming to the defense of Americans last year at a CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.
Delta Force, a counterterrorism unit in the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, has been thought of as a strictly Army outfit. But it does take on qualified commandos from other services.
The Washington Times has reported that two Delta Force members were among a seven-person rescue team sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Their mission: rescue diplomats, security personnel and CIA employees pinned down by terrorists about a mile from the U.S. diplomatic mission where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and aide Sean Smith were killed by al Qaeda-directed militants.
The Times can now report that one of the Delta Force members was an Army soldier and the other a Marine.
The soldier was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Marine received the Navy Cross for heroism.
The bestowal of the awards was done in secret. The medals rank just below the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
The Navy provided a statement to The Times:
“Yes, a Navy Cross was approved, but due to security and privacy concerns no further information can be provided at this time. It is not unusual for certain awards not to be publicized, and details of the circumstances and actions that justified the award to be withheld. Per [Department of Defense] regulations, this information will not be released if it could potentially lead to a compromise of national security, or potentially create undue risk to the security and privacy of the awardee and his/her family.”
Special operations sources said they know of no other Marine earning such a high honor as a Delta Force member. Awards to Delta Force, which operates in the shadows and sometimes with great autonomy, are usually kept classified.
The fact that Delta Force fought to save lives at the annex has never been disclosed publicly by the Obama administration or at open congressional hearings, and was not included in the State Department’s official report on the attacks on the diplomatic mission and the annex.
To critics, Delta’s presence and its ability to land in Benghazi showed that Washington could have provided commandos to help the pinned-down survivors during the eight-hour ordeal. Help could have come from an emergency special forces unit training across the Mediterranean Sea in Croatia, they say.
Then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told Congress that time, distance and a lack of situational awareness prevented sending help.
The Times previously reported that Delta troops were part of a classified unit that hunts wanted terrorists on foreign soil.
The Tripoli embassy’s rescue team faced a daunting task. First, the embassy had to find an airplane because the plane assigned to it had been taken away by the State Department.
The State Department also pulled a military site security team and civilian diplomatic security officers despite warnings from U.S. personnel inWashington that Benghazi was becoming a war zone and increasingly unsafe.
The Delta Force members and security officers arrived in Benghazi around 1 a.m. Sept. 12, 2012. But it took hours to organize a convoy amid the chaos of militants and supposedly friendly militia. They were not able to reach the annex until 5 a.m.
There, the team joined in the annex’s defense, when three mortar rounds hit, killing two former Navy SEALs who were CIA security officers. It is believed the Delta troops moved those men and a wounded State Department security officer off an annex roof. The 30 or so Americans were evacuated by convoy to the Benghazi airport.
Delta Force has a relatively new pool from which to draw Marine candidates. In 2005, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the Corps to establish its first commando command, now called U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Its website describes its mission as “conducting foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance and direct action.”
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