An Army Delta Force commando who infiltrated Benghazi to rescue U.S. diplomats, spies and security officers during a 2012 terrorist attack “was critical to the success of saving numerous lives,” according to a citation awarding him the military’s second-highest honor.
Delta Force’s role was not disclosed in any public report or congressional testimony. The Army citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, posted on a website for Army personnel, provides the first detailed look at what one of the commandos, Master Sgt. David R. Halbruner, accomplished.
The Washington Times reported in November that two members of Delta Force, the Army’s premier counterterrorism unit, were among seven U.S. personnel who went to Benghazi, Libya, on a rescue mission the night of Sept. 11, 2012. The second Delta member, a Marine, was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism, The Times reported.
The Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross are the second-highest military awards in precedence, below the Medal of Honor.
After al Qaeda-linked terrorists stormed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi at 9:40 p.m., killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department officer Sean Smith, the rescuers chartered a plane in Tripoli. They landed in Benghazi around 1 a.m. and made their way via convoy to a CIA annex where Americans were fighting off various terrorist groups, including Ansar al-Sharia, which had attacked the mission.
The Army’s one-paragraph award narrative does not identify Sgt. Halbruner by his unit, only as “a team leader for a joint task force in support of an overseas contingency operation.” It also does not name the country.
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But the citation’s dates for his heroism — Sept. 11 to Sept. 12, 2012 — correspond with the dates when the rescue team left Tripoli and completed its mission by getting about 30 Americans onto aircraft bound for Tripoli. Sources confirmed to The Times in November that a Delta solider was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The U.S. task force in Libya operated under an agreement with the new government. It is believed to have been involved in locating wanted al Qaeda terrorists in Libya since the fall of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
A CIA report declassified Jan. 15 said several al Qaeda-linked terrorists are setting up shop in eastern Libya, including Benghazi.
When the Tripoli team made it to the annex, two former Navy SEALs employed as CIA security contractors were on a roof returning fire. Three mortar rounds hit the building, killing both men and badly wounding a State Department security officer.
Sgt. Halbruner and his Marine colleague are believed to have played a major role in getting the wounded off the roof under intense fire.
The Army citation reads:
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“Without regard for his own safety, Master Sergeant Halbruner’s valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way for the protection of others was critical to the success of saving numerous United States civilian lives. Throughout the operation, Master Sergeant Halbruner continually exposed himself to fire as he shepherded unarmed civilians to safety and treated the critically wounded. His calm demeanor, professionalism and courage was an inspiration to all and contributed directly to the success of the mission. Master Sergeant Halbruner’s distinctive accomplishments are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his Command and the United States Army.”
Critics of the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi say the fact that two Delta Force commandos were instrumental in the rescue shows that the Pentagon should have made a concerted effort to get troops to the annex.
Leon E. Panetta, defense secretary at the time, has said that special operations forces in Europe and the United States were too far away to help.