Commentary Magazine


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More Evidence of the Administration’s Failure in Benghazi

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

He continues: “Fighter jets could have been at Benghazi in an hour; the commandos inside three hours…. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites.”

West concludes: “For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now explains the decision not to act militarily by saying that he and top military commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation” because they didn’t have enough “real-time information about what’s taking place.” But of course more real-time information could have been obtained by sending aircraft to overfly Benghazi.

In any case, Special Operations Forces and other military forces are used to acting on incomplete information, especially in a situation where Americans are under fire and in danger of being overrun. At that point, caution is normally thrown to the wind, and Quick Reaction Forces are launched. It is indeed puzzling that there was apparently no standing plan to send a Quick Reaction Force to Benghazi (or other areas in North Africa where U.S. outposts are located) or, if such a plan existed, the decision was made not to activate it.

There is no doubt that there was a serious failure at all levels of the U.S. government before, during, and after the Benghazi attack. This is simply more evidence of the screw-ups that occurred and the need to have better procedures in place the next time an incident like this occurs.