Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Didn't Our Military Act Like We Were At War?

I still have no satisfactory answers to my main unanswered question regarding the 11 SEP 12 Benghazi attacks. The latest Congressional report does not settle that question of why our military did not react as if it was on a war footing once the enemy attack started and when we had no idea how long the crisis would last.

I hope that I have built up a reputation for sober analysis here. I believe I am not reflexively anti-Obama. I've backed the president if I think he is right--as in the current approach to ISIL in Iraq despite widespread conservative criticism.

And I haven't gone in for the rumors and conspiracies of the Benghazi incident, figuring conclusions required investigation.

The latest Congressional report does not address my concerns despite some press reports that it ends the discussion.

The latest Congressional report out by the House Intelligence Committee does not actually state anywhere in it that there was "no missed opportunity for a military rescue" at Benghazi, as this AP article states.

My concerns over the security and military aspects of the attack are still not fully answered.

Soon after the attack, I restricted myself to wondering about a narrow piece of that attack rather than the political motives for the administration choosing what garbled initial intelligence to broadcast and to stick with it long after it was obviously wrong:

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.

We failed in the first decision point. Our facilities fell. Obviously we decided poorly. But mistakes happen in war. Stuff happens. We should learn from that.

We did send paramilitary forces to the consulate at the second decision point. That attack was over too quickly to respond to with effective force given the failures of the first decision point (which would have been a series of decision over many months, of course). But those guys "went to the sound of the guns." I commend them. But for them, this could have been much worse.

We still have not struck back (although we managed to capture some guys not too long ago) against anyone who took part in the attack, so the fourth decision point is still a failure more than two years later. A failure beyond parody, actually, at the highest levels.

My focus has long been on the third failure point: we did not send forces to intervene in the battle despite having a large military presence in Europe.

This is not to say that we could have rescued the people who took refuge in the annex. The claim that we did not miss an opportunity for a military rescue is surely accurate but relies completely on knowing the outcome and duration of the crisis, and calculating that we could not have gotten earmarked forces there in time to help.

That misses my point. While the crisis was raging, we did not know how long the crisis would last and so could not know if sending forces would be futile.

We didn't even try to send our military. Why?

The rescue wording in that AP report was so oddly narrow that I had to see the report.

A CNN story that I found second did not repeat the "no missed opportunity" claim. That's odd. But it had a link to the actual report.

The executive summary of the report did not claim there was no missed opportunity for a military rescue.

Nor did the full report itself, which explicitly said it relied on a previous report for the military aspect:

This review did not set out to assess the Defense Department's activities during the attacks. The House Armed Services Committee report, however, thoroughly addresses the military response to the Benghazi attacks.

So what about that earlier report? I blogged about it here. This is the narrow claim:

Investigators for the Republican majority on a House Armed Services subcommittee tell Fox News they have tentatively determined no military response or rescue plan could have worked in Benghazi because U.S. assets were so poorly postured around the globe that night.

That does not address my concern. Excuse the length of my own quote, but this is important:

If by "assets" you mean only special forces, embassy security forces supplied by the Marines, and Air Force airlift, I can buy that narrow determination.

But that doesn't mean that no military response or rescue plan could have worked.

You are asking me to believe that with tens of thousands of troops in Europe, we couldn't scrape together an initial platoon of Air Force base security troops, Army MPs or infantry, or anything else for rapid deployment? With the remainder of a company ordered to follow on as soon as possible?

You are asking me to believe that we had nothing that could lift 50 troops to Benghazi? I know Air Force airlift is heavily committed. But there were no VIP transport planes sitting around? Nothing at all?

And if there really were zero aircraft that could have carried troops despite their official designation, that nobody had any phone numbers for private airlines to provide a transport plane in an emergency?

That possibility never occurred to anyone in our European Command or Africa Command in an age when the Air Force air transport is so heavily committed that we routinely use private contractors for transport and even refueling?

It is possible--perhaps even likely for all I know--that no military response or rescue plan could have worked.

But we couldn't know that at the time. We simply couldn't know that we had 7 hours to get to our people on the ground or that it was already over and so too late to do anything.

What I do know is that when we learned our people were under attack, we didn't try to help them. Well, except for the pathetically few civilian security personnel under State Department control who immediately moved toward the sounds of the guns to see what they could do.

With tens of thousands of troops in nearby Europe, we didn't even put in motion a single effing platoon of something--anything--to get to Benghazi in case we could do something.

We didn't send any combat aircraft just to buzz the area as a warning that more power was on the way--even if it was a bluff.

But apparently we couldn't even get a platoon-sized base reaction force into the air to reach Benghazi in a few hours with the balance of a company following an hour or two later--with a battalion gathering as that was done.

Perhaps the platoon would have reached Benghazi and found it was too late to do anything.

But maybe they would have gotten on the ground in time to reinforce the few security people holding out at the CIA compound (the "annex").

Or maybe they would have been able to engage the attackers who assaulted the diplomatic compound where our ambassador was killed. Maybe we could have at least secured the facility and prevented looting and pictures of enemies standing on our ground.

Maybe, even if too late to send into action, such a response would have sent a message to future terrorists that they have limited time to cause mayhem. Perhaps that kind of resolve to react with whatever we have would have meant that embassy security people would have to hold out only for a limited time before attackers withdraw from fear of a response.

But we did not even try to react. If it was because we didn't have forces specifically earmarked for embassy rescue, that's a stunning indictment of a military or civilian leadership that doesn't really think of itself as at war.

If we didn't react because we didn't have a week to polish a plan complete with PowerPoint presentations to make it look nice and glossy, that's a stunning indictment of our leadership.

Because if our senior people felt we were at war, they would have scraped up cooks and typists--and even the officers who usually make PowerPoint presentations--to send to the sound of the guns if that is all they had.

So fine. This latest report refutes a number of claims, such as the rumor that the annex was involved in sending arms to Syrian rebels. That's fine. I'm glad they settled that.

But I still haven't been satisfied that our military acted as if we are a nation at war when our facilities were attacked--by rushing to the sound of the guns with what we had available in the hope that we might be able to affect the outcome that was still unknown.

But the party line during a presidential election year was that our wars were responsibly ended and that al Qaeda was on the run. I suspect that notion infected the military chain of command so much that our military didn't react to the attack like we were (and are) at war.