Senators suggest more military resources could have saved SEALs in Benghazi
Presenting a new study on the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks Monday, leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee suggested that if the Pentagon had more assets available, troops could have reached the Benghazi consulate in time to save the lives of two Americans.
This comes the day before the Defense Department’s budget was scheduled to be slashed by more than $500 billion in a deficit-reduction maneuver known as sequestration.
Speaking at a Monday morning press conference, committee chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) presented 11 findings and action points from their special report on Benghazi, “Flashing Red.”
Their research confirmed a recent Accountability Review Board report showing the State Department had left the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya woefully unprepared for an organized attack and that the department had ignored a series of violent incidents and indicators that such an attack was imminent.
The eighth finding of the 29-page report showed that the Pentagon and the State Department had not jointly assessed the military assets available to support the Benghazi facility in the event of an attack.
The quickest military response came from a Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon stationed in Rota, Spain, which arrived on Sept. 12, long after the violence had ended. With the rise of terrorist groups in Libya and nearby Mali, the committee found, the dearth of deployable assets from the U.S. military’s Africa Command left American facilities and personnel in the region exposed.
“AFRICOM’s lack of operational assets near Benghazi hindered its capacity to evacuate U.S. personnel during the attacks. The Djibouti base was several thousand miles away,” the report says. “There was no Marine expeditionary unit, carrier group or a smaller group of U.S. ships closely located in the Mediterranean Sea that could have provided aerial or ground support or helped evacuate personnel from Benghazi.”
The report calls for a thorough joint analysis of DoD assets and personnel to determine whether more forces can be assigned to the region. While Department of State officials have said budgeting was not a factor in their security personnel decisions at the Tripoli and Benghazi diplomatic facilities and DoD officials have not publicly addressed the matter, Collins said poor resourcing played a role in the decisions that left military assets unable to reach the consulate.
“There were a number of hours that elapsed before the second attack that killed two of the security officers in another compound,” Collins said. “Surely, we should have sufficient security personnel, weapons and other assets to respond in a matter of hours. I emphasize I do not view this as a fault of the Pentagon, but rather as an indication that the Department of Defense has insufficient assets to respond to an attack of this kind.”
While both the Accountability Review Board Report and the committee review recommend additional resourcing and expenditures to make American diplomatic facilities around the world safer, all that could become more difficult on Jan. 2, when sequestration takes effect.
The sequester is expected to slice $129 million from U.S. embassy security alone, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.