On September 11, 2012, U.S. diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, Libya were attacked resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Prior to the attack the region was subject to massive protests, which spread to more than fifteen countries, over an American produced anti-Islamic video.
At the onset of the attacks, Defense Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey briefed President Obama.
The President immediately ordered all available assets to respond.
“Shortly after the Benghazi attack began, General Ham, who was coincidentally visiting the Pentagon from AFRICOM headquarters in Germany, was informed. He was told the SMC was under fire and the location of Ambassador Stevens and a State Department colleague was unknown. General Ham then personally provided this information to General Dempsey and both then “immediately” briefed Secretary Panetta.
Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey then left for the White House to attend an unrelated routine weekly meeting with the President. Upon arrival, the two discussed the attack with the President for fifteen to thirty minutes, at which time they presumably shared all that was known about the unfolding events, including the fact that the ambassador and the subordinate (Mr. Sean Smith) were missing.
According to Secretary Panetta’s statements to the Senate, the President “directed both myself and General Dempsey to do everything we need to do to try to protect the lives” in Benghazi.
General Dempsey recounted to the House Armed Services Committee the President instructed us to use all available assets to respond to the attacks to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel in Libya and to protect U.S. personnel and interests throughout the region.”
House Armed Services report
“…his (Obama’s) staff was engaged with the national military command center pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.”
- General Dempsey
Military Actions Authorized by the President and the DOD
The first step DOD took upon learning of the attack involved a U.S. drone that was overflying Darnah, a city in northeastern Libya. AFRICOM’s operations officer immediately redirected the unarmed Predator to Benghazi, which was about an hour’s flight time away.
Separately, following the meeting in the White House, Secretary Panetta (in consultation with General Ham, General Dempsey, and others) verbally authorized three specific actions.
First, two Marine FAST platoons in Rota, Spain were ordered to prepare to deploy; one bound for Benghazi and one destined for Tripoli.
Second, a special operations unit assigned to the European Command, known as a Commander’s In-Extremis Force (CIF), which was training in Croatia was ordered to move to a U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy and await further instructions.
Third, a special operations unit in the United States was also dispatched to the region. These orders were issued approximately two to four hours after the initial attack on the SMC.
There was no stand down order.
“There was no “stand down” order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi.
However, because official reviews after the attack were not sufficiently comprehensive, there was confusion about the roles and responsibilities of these individuals.”
-Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, House Committee on Armed Services
Senate Intelligence Committee’s January 2014 review of the attacks found that during that delay, the CIA’s Chief of Base (CIA Annex in Benghazi) “attempted to secure assistance and heavy weapons” from US allies in the region, and that Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.
The Senate Intelligence report and House Armed Services report found no fault with the administration’s military response to the attack. They did site a lack of additional staged security for the 9-11 anniversary and other security failures prior to the attacks.
Senate IC report
Motive and Planning
The Senate report states that there is no evidence of significant preplanning of the attack and that it was mostly “Opportunist”
The attack was perpetrated primarily by members of the militant group Ansar al-Shariah, a loose Al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa. The report found no clear evidence of direct Al Qaeda involvement in the attack.
“In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the IC received numerous reports, both classified and unclassified, which provided contradictory accounts that there were demonstrations at the Temporary Mission Facility. In some cases, these intelligence reports which were disseminated widely in the Intelligence Community contained references to press reports on protests that were simply copied into intelligence products.
Senate IC Report
“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate,” the report said. “Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.”
-Senate IC report
“There was no intelligence of a specific “imminent” threat in Libya.”
House Armed Services report
Independent investigations have also concluded that the attack was at least partially motivated by the anti-Islamic video and the violent demonstrations in the region.
“On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.
As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.”
-New York Times
The CIA Intelligence assessment.
Talking points issued by the CIA show that the Administration did not originate the Protest/Video assessment. The original draft was written by CIA Director of Intelligence Analysis, Friday September 14, 2012.
• We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.
The final, unclassified version of the CIA talking points, as provided on September 15, 2012, read as follows:
-The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
-This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed as currently available information continues to be evaluated.
-The investigation is ongoing and the US Government is working With Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.
-Senate IC Report
Clinton and What Difference Does It Make
Clinton: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.”
Letter to Armed Services Committee from Chris Stevens’ Family
“Chris was not willing to be the kind of diplomat who would strut around in fortified compounds. He amazed and impressed the Libyans by walking the streets with the lightest of escorts, sitting in sidewalk cafes, chatting with passers-by. There was a risk to being accessible. He knew it, and he accepted it.
What Chris never would have accepted was the idea that his death would be used for political purposes. There were security shortcomings, no doubt. Both internal and outside investigations have identified and publicly disclosed them. Steps are being taken to prevent their reoccurrence.
Chris would not have wanted to be remembered as a victim. Chris knew, and accepted, that he was working under dangerous circumstances. He did so just as so many of our diplomatic and development professionals do every day because he believed the work was vitally important. He would have wanted the critical work he was doing to build bridges of mutual understanding and respect the kind of work that made him literally thousands of friends and admirers across the broader Middle East to continue.”
Remarks by the President on the Deaths of U.S. Embassy Staff in Libya
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
Rose Garden Speech 9-12-12