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The original account misled the public about the role of al Qaeda. The White House falsely asserted that the attacks arose from a spontaneous riot spurred by an anti-Islam video, when the intelligence community had evidence almost immediately that the assault was planned by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

The administration has blamed editing of “talking points” for the misleading accounts, the most famous of which was given on national television by Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, five days after the attack.

But a second thread of the administration’s story line was that no U.S. special operations forces were deployed to Benghazi because none was within range to arrive during the eight-hour onslaught.

“The bottom line is this: that we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told Congress this year. “Very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region, time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”

Mr. Panetta, who has since left office, eventually acknowledged that two soldiers were involved in the firefight, but he offered little detail.

“The quickest response option available was a Tripoli-based security team that was located at the embassy in Tripoli.,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. “And to their credit, within hours, this [seven]-man team, including two U.S. military personnel, chartered a private airplane, deployed to Benghazi. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the annex facility, they came under attack by mortar and rocket-propelled grenades.”

What Mr. Panetta left unspoken in public, however, was why those troops were in Tripoli and who else accompanied them.

At the time of the al Qaeda attacks, the military was setting up a terrorist-hunting unit in Tripoli that included U.S. Special Operations Command’s super-secret Delta Force and Green Berets, the sources say.

Gregory Hicks, who was deputy chief of station in Tripoli, sent the reinforcements in conjunction with the CIA. On a night when Mr. Panetta decided he did not have enough information to commit troops, Mr. Hicks decided he did.

Delta Force is nation’s premier counterterrorism unit, along with the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, controlled by Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Delta has been working with the CIA to nab wanted terrorists in Libya.

More than a year after the Benghazi attack, on Oct. 5, Delta soldiers in Tripoli captured fugitive al Qaeda terrorist Abu Anas al Libi, the alleged mastermind of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” reported Sunday that the annex was defended by two Delta soldiers. The Washington Times confirmed the information last week and learned that they were part of the small reinforcement flight from Tripoli. They were awarded medals for valor. The CIA also has bestowed medals to its employees who defended the mission and annex.

The charter flight proved ill-fated. After terrorists stormed the U.S. mission in Benghazi at 9:45 p.m. local time, killing Stevens and communications aide Sean Smith, surviving diplomats and State Department security personnel made a mad dash. In armored vehicles, they arrived just after midnight at the annex commanded by a retired Army officer turned CIA operative. A rescue team from the annex also brought back survivors from the mission.

The Hicks-ordered flight arrived in Benghazi in time to help at 1:15 a.m. — but they could not get various Libyan militias to provide transportation to the annex.

The annex inhabitants had plenty of weapons to hold off a direct assault, like the one that breached and burned the U.S. mission. Huddled there was a mix of CIA officers and security personnel, such as former SEAL Tyrone Woods, and employees of Britain’s Blue Mountain personal security team.

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