Friday, November 02, 2012

We Gave the Enemy a Victory in Benghazi

I have been critical of the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi crisis. It isn't the loss of life, as such. I don't blame the president for our casualties in Afghanistan, after all. We are at war. What I find unacceptable is the failure to try to help Americans bravely holding on while they asked for help--and the attempt to justify that failure as sound military judgment. Now we know the CIA reacted as I hoped our military would have been ordered to do. We could have had a victory that day. We gave our enemies a victory, instead.

My main complaint about Benghazi once the attack started was that we failed to try to intervene with our military assets in the region:

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.

I won't argue that any particular asset should be used since I'm not sure what was near. But I know we had assets near enough to use if we chose to use them. And we certainly had enough information to start using our military assets.

Secretary of Defense Panetta said we don't send forces into harm's way without real-time intelligence of what is happening on the battlefield. That's ridiculous. And in fact, our CIA did exactly that:

CIA officials on the ground in Libya dispatched security forces to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi within 25 minutes and made other key decisions about how to respond to the waves of attacks on U.S. installations on September 11, a senior American intelligence official said on Thursday.

Officials in Washington monitored events through message traffic and a hovering U.S. military drone but did not interfere with or reject requests for help from officials in the line of fire, the official said.

By marching to the sound of the guns, the small CIA reaction force may have been the margin that allowed the annex to hold until a later-arriving (from Tripoli) CIA force could help move 30 Americans holed up in the annex to the airport to get out of Dodge.

By marching to the sound of the guns, those men prevented a much higher body count or even a hostage situation if the jihadis could have grabbed our people and retreated into the interior of Libya where government authority is nominal.

Our military could have done more. It would not have been enough to save the consulate. It might not even have been enough to prevent further loss of life at the annex. Shoot, this is war, so we might have lost more. But we had no reason to know that after the consulate was overrun that the same wouldn't happen to the annex once it came under heavy fire.

The CIA is taking a lot of heat, but they went into harm's way by marching to the sound of the guns at the consulate, rescued our people who survived that attack, held the annex and our people sheltered there until help could come (from the CIA) to evacuate those people, and then stayed in the annex to scrub it of sensitive information before abandoning the annex. They prevented a bigger loss both in blood and national security.

But we were shown to be uninterested in marching to the sounds of the guns to actually win a fight against al Qaeda and give them a bloody nose for attacking and killing Americans on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, of all days.

Indeed, we still haven't struck back. During the Boxer Rebellion, Western diplomatic outposts had to hold out for 55 days before Western forces could march in and relieve the diplomatic missions in Peking. We haven't been able to retaliate in 53 days.

We needlessly gave the enemy a victory at Benghazi on September 11, 2012.