I've been pondering the limits on our response to the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi and the nearby annex. It seems as if the consulate could not have been saved by anything within range while the annex could have been saved had we sent in aircraft to provide air support or even just the psychological effect of being there.
It is heart breaking that the two defenders of the annex, former SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty who were in Libya as security contractors separate from the consulate, ran to the sound of the guns at the consulate--though they were unarmed--and picked up dropped weapons on the way (tip to Instapundit).
They didn't know what was going on and didn't have real-time information about what was happening, but they followed their instincts and ran to the sounds of the guns.
It is a good thing that they acted that way, or the American body count could have been much higher--or we'd be discussing Day 47 of America Held Hostage. The two Americans allowed the escape of 20 of our people in the consulate and then they set up a defense perimeter and held off an attack by 100-200 jihadis at the annex.
And they killed 60 of the attackers in their stand.
Our president said he is sharing information about what happened as he finds out. Why have I read this on a blog rather than on the news? Who would be disturbed to hear that our people performed acts of heroism with little hope of help?
Or is this account inaccurate? Certainly, our 20 people did escape the attackers. Those two men at least did that.
But I can't doubt that it could be true. These were former SEALs. Certainly, they held for many hours. I'll await further reporting about the jihadi body count. And if true, wonder why this is the first I've read of this epic defense. Somebody in the press corps might want to directly ask our president and government just what happened there.
Would acknowledging the effort by Woods and Doherty to rescue consulate personnel and defend the annex make our failure to send help seem even worse than it already seems?
Sure, the consulate was a goner. It took too little time to kill the ambassador and Sean Smith. But the annex held with Woods and Doherty there. After that kind of defense that they conducted, it seems to me that it would have been more likely that even an aerial demonstration could have persuaded jihadis moving on the annex that going up against effective American defenders--but with air support, too--would be folly. The jihadis believed they faced more defenders, it is alleged. I think this is about right:
“The fighting at the CIA annex [in Benghazi] went on for more than four hours – enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.”
This doesn't mean that the ground units would have gone in. But if the aircraft had gone in, communicated with and assisted the annex defenders, a clearer picture of the ground situation would have been created. And we would likely have allowed the defenders of the annex to hold longer, buying time for decisions to be made at higher levels of command.
The consulate was beyond saving. But not the annex. And saying this is possible isn't just Monday morning quarterbacking. It is reacting the way Woods and Doherty did--and as any soldier should know--that you can't go far wrong if you march for the sound of the guns.
This doesn't mean charging in foolishly so more can be killed in an ambush. It means moving toward the fight and figuring out what is happening so you can use your forces to affect the fight. This is armed reconnaissance.
We had four decision points in this crisis: the pre-attack decisions to defend our diplomatic outposts (or evacuate them if we couldn't defend them) and prepare forces to respond to threats to those outposts that exceed local defense capabilities; the decision to send forces to defend the consulate; the decision to send forces to defend the annex; and the decision to respond to the attacks.
On the first decision, we failed at preparing the defenses of our outposts. It appears that our nearby forces could have responded at least to the annex attack, had the orders been given. And some forces were moved closer when the attacks began. So count this as a failure and a partial success.
On the second, I don't think we could have saved the situation. It was over too fast. The failure at the first decision point essentially decided this decision point. When the enemy attacks forward-deployed assets, those assets have to be able to absorb the first blow on their own.
On the third, the heroic efforts of Woods and Doherty bought time to make a decision to intervene. We might have lost anyway. But the decision wasn't simply to drop ground troops into an uncertain situation where they, too, might have been lost. We had the time to dispatch air recon and air support assets. The former to find out what is happening from the air and be communicating with the annex defenders to clarify the situation. The latter to buy time by either buzzing defenders or shooting at the attackers guided by the defenders--or just firing around the perimeter of the annex to keep enemy forces at bay.
Then we might have had the information higher ups needed to commit ground forces. We failed here, assuming the worst and cutting our losses--we had our magical "exit strategy" and followed it rather than trying to win--or even trying to find out if we could win. Instead, the decision was made to go to Las Vegas to raise funds for the one battle our president is fully committed to winning--the White House.
The fourth decision point has passed, too, in failure. There is no lack of information that led to this failure of command. No lack of clarity. Just a lack of leadership to fight the war we are in.
The limits of action at Benghazi are found in our leadership. The failure of our government to strike back more than six weeks later with all of our national power available is just an insult to two unarmed civilian security contractors who ran to the sound of the guns when they did not have to risk their lives.
If we let down such fine men as Woods and Doherty--and Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department diplomat Sean Smith who stood at a forward outpost knowing they relied on the reputation of our country to defend their outpost-- our president has shown that he can't even handle a 3:00 p.m. phone call.
UPDATE: Oh, there were other trigger pullers at the annex. At least a few others, I believe. But the post I cite really just discusses those who died--Woods and Doherty. The others have my deepest gratitude, as well. And I'm glad they survived.
Also, I posted this at about 10:30 a.m., but accidentally had an earlier post date. I wrote the draft last night, posted it for the morning, and then decided I wanted to review it again before hittting "post." But forgot to change the time stamp.
UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for the link.
UPDATE: Thanks to commenter rjacobse at Protein Wisdom for the mention; and thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the link. Yeah, as "civilians," the two former SEALs can't get a Medal of Honor. Medal of Freedom seems like the least we could do to honor their sacrifice for our country.
UPDATE: Yes, why didn't we help with armed forces nearby? Who ordered them not to assist? Remember, some non-military forces did get sent to help the consulate and annex. Other military forces were moved closer to the area in case they were ordered in. Aircraft have the speed to have gotten there quickly. Who ordered our troops to stand down?