Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reaching Benghazi

Pentagon testimony to Congress last October that was recently published supposedly establishes that we could not have reached Benghazi in time to affect the outcome. I respectfully disagree with the assumptions and conclusion of this assertion.

We could have reacted with military force to the Benghazi assaults but we chose not to. And the only reason that decision did not lead to more dead Americans was that the enemy dispersed and did not attempt to pursue our people after they abandoned the annex.

Much of the Congressional questioning is worthless. But it is all we have to get what is worth something. I read the "EXECUTIVE SESSION THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT'S FORCE POSTURE IN ANTICIPATION OF SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 (BENGHAZI OVERSIGHT) House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Washington, D.C. Thursday October 101 2013".

This testimony does not establish that we could not have reacted to the Benghazi attack in time to affect the outcome.

Press reports back in October wrongly portrayed our military as unable to respond. But I was handicapped by not having the testimony. I stand by my initial reaction.

One, I will stipulate that it would be too difficult to have our military capable of responding to any attack anywhere on the planet within 2 hours, as one administration defender set up as a straw man about Benghazi. We cannot set up forces for such contingencies. And I would not expect us to be able to rapidly react to an embassy attack in Nigeria, Zambia, or Bolivia.

But we're talking about Libya. Which is close to tens of thousands of American forces in NATO Europe to the north.

Let's go to the testimony.

This testimony includes an administration defender on the Congressional committee quoting the Accountability Review Board's assessment that "there simply was not enough time given the speed of attacks for armed U.S. military asset to have made a difference." That was the State Department's take and not military testimony, I'll note.

That is simply wrong and the testimony does not back up that statement, even though General Dempsey states he could not have gotten forces to Libya faster than they did get there.

As I've written from early on, we certainly could not have responded militarily in time to defend the diplomatic facility (often called the "embassy") where our ambassador died. I accept that.

But the annex held on longer, and Americans were still on the ground even longer than that, awaiting evacuation. The fact that the actual outcome was that these Americans escaped largely on their own with help of State Department armed reaction forces does not excuse the failure to order American forces to Benghazi.

What if the enemy had pursued those Americans? The outcome could have been several dozen dead or captured Americans. So essentially, a decision was made to accept the potential loss of a couple dozen Americans rather than attempt to intervene.

We could have sent armed forces in time to intervene in the annex battle or in the time from the abandonment of the annex to the time when Americans were finally evacuated.

Just simply sending unarmed fighters over Benghazi might have been frightening enough given our track record of smart bombing enemies anywhere, any time. We could have used our reputation to our advantage even if we could not back it up at that moment.

But back to the testimony. Remember, the question at hand is whether we could have intervened from Europe in time to affect the battle.

Much was made of the fact that the day before the attack that a conference call with the president and major leaders did not specifically discuss Libya.

But the testimony shows that the countries that were specifically mentioned in regard to our readiness to react with force on the September 11th anniversary in 2012 were Tunisia (bordering Libya to the northwest), Egypt (bordering Libya to the east), and Sudan (bordering Libya to the southeast).

And the discussion addressed American force posture in general in both the Persian Gulf region and North Africa.

So we had forces--as I've long said--in the North Africa region, in general, and in respect to three countries all around Libya!

Yet because Libya was not specifically brought up in the conference call, we couldn't react to Libya events? Seriously?

But you'd say that because Tunisia was mentioned, we could have reacted there, just next door?

AFRICOM's emergency reserve force, the commander's in extremis force (CIF), which presumably would have been available for Tunisia and Sudan even if you assume Egypt would have been handled by CENTCOM, was on a training mission and on N+X status. That is, they'd have to be on base within X hours of being notified. The status is redacted in the testimony, but is clearly less than 19 hours.

And one reason given for not sending the force faster was uncertainty about whether they should wear uniforms or civilian clothes!

If I may be so bold, go in uniform and take some civilian clothes with you and find out on the way or on the ground in Libya what the freaking uniform of the day should be!

But the CIF was not sent quickly.

Is this sequence of delay for the CIF the reason why the Pentagon's testimony is that we couldn't have gotten force to the scene faster? If so, this is just bizarre (note, this post has timeline of events). We're talking anvils and idiots level of stupidity.

With tens of thousands of troops in Europe, the only force capable of fighting was the CIF, and if that is unavailable because it is out on a training exercise (or for any other reason) we can do nothing?!!

One question I had unanswered until I read the testimony was the status of airlift. While a Marine FAST unit designed to respond to embassy emergencies did not reach Tripoli for 23 hours after the attacks started, the testimony says that it was delayed because the aircraft needed to move them were (so that's plural) in Germany.

At another point, the testimony says a C-17 was on the ground in Ramstein (Germany) with orders at 6:05 a.m. the next morning to be ready to fly. But that was known already from press reports.

So we did have transport aircraft in Germany. Which is not surprising given our large Air Force presence there, including aircraft moving between CENTCOM and America, I assume, staging through Germany. What we didn't have was the CIF ready to go. Which is amazing enough on the eve of the 2001 9/11 attacks, you must admit. Just what forces in North Africa were discussed in that conference call, anyway, if these guys were out of reach?

But what about the other tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Italy? We had troops there. It is mind boggling that we could not scrape up a reaction platoon of infantry, Military Police, or Air Force base security troops in order to get somebody moving to the sound of the guns while the CIF got back to base and sorted out uniform issues.

I'm not saying we had to send clerks and cooks (or the officers who usually make PowerPoint presentations) to the front like we were reacting to the German 1944 offensive in the Ardennes. But we were not out of military options because the CIF was rushing back to base.

Are you seriously going to say that what was initially portrayed as a mob out of control couldn't be handled by anybody other than our designated reaction forces?

And what about all our aircraft in Europe? Nothing? Sure, no "armed" aircraft could have gotten there (and that's another failure if true, but let's stipulate that). But what of even unarmed F-16s, as I noted above?

Face it, we didn't lack military resources to react to the Benghazi attacks.

We lacked the resolve to do so at the political level, apparently writing off our people on the ground rather than order action on the eve of an election (and that whole issue is another problem altogether).

Remember, wartime thinking was so alien that on the day before the Benghazi attack, I wrote that the Department of Homeland Security needed to raise the zombie threat to promote readiness! On September 10th!

And we lacked the wartime attitude in our military leadership that should think of reacting with whatever is available in an emergency.

So our people were left on their own to face the threat.