Former Special Forces Commander: DOD Could Have Flown Rescue Team From Tripoli to Benghazi; DOD: State Dept. Decided Whether and What to Fly

February 7, 2013 - 12:21 AM

 

Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin--formerly commander of U.S. Special Forces Command and deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence—told CNSNews.com that, if it had been asked, the Defense Department could have sent a plane to Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, to transport a rescue team of U.S. security personnel that instead ended up taking a chartered private plane from Tripoli to Benghazi that night.

“There is no question that we could have moved an airplane in there and we could have also put boots on the ground at the embassy,” Gen. Boykin told CNSNews.com.

“State should have coordinated with DOD and said: We’ve got to have an airplane,” said Gen. Boykin. “The Department of Defense could have provided an airplane in there. All they had to do was ask.”

A Defense Department official told CNSNews.com, however, that the type of aircraft that was used that night and the decision to use it were both determinations made by the State Department. But the Defense Department official also said that DOD would not have been able to get a plane to Tripoli to fly the security team to Benghazi as quickly as the State Department’s chartered plane did.

According to a timeline released by the Office of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the chartered private plane took off from Tripoli and headed to Benghazi with the rescue team about 2 hours and 48 minutes after the terrorist attack in Benghazi started at 9:42 p.m. Libya time.

According to the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) report, the department’s temporary duty regional security officer (TDY RSO) in charge of the security detail at the department’s Benghazi mission on Sept. 11, 2012 was monitoring a security camera and saw the terrorists swarm through the front gate of the compound at the start of the attack.

Using his cell phone, this security officer notified the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli within three minutes. He also notified the nearby Annex operated by the CIA. Within eight minutes of the start of the attack, Amb. Chris Stevens, who was in the Benghazi compound, used a cell phone given to him by a State Department Diplomatic Security agent to talk to his deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and tell that deputy personally that the Benghazi compound was under attack.

“Upon notification of the attack from the TDY RSO around 2145 local, Embassy Tripoli set up a command center and notified Washington,” said the ARB report.

“About 2150 local, the DCM was able to reach Ambassador Stevens, who briefly reported that the SMC [Special Mission Compound] was under attack before the call cut off.”

After Amb. Stevens' incomplete we-are-under-attack phone call to his deputy in Tripoli, it took almost three hours for the U.S. government to get a solitary private charter plane on the way to Benghazi--and almost four hours to get that plane landed at the Benghazi airport.

“Within hours,” said the ARB report, “Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi.”

While not stating that this plane was a private charter, the DOD's timeline specifies that it took off from Tripoli at 12:30 a.m. Libya time—or 2 hours and 48 minutes after the attack started.

The DOD timeline and the State Department ARB report differ on the number of people included in the security team that traveled on this chartered plane. DOD’s timeline says it was six; State’s ARB report, as quoted above, says it was seven. “12:30 am A six man security team from U.S. Embassy Tripoli, including two DoD personnel, departs for Benghazi,” says the DOD timeline.

Neither the DOD timeline nor the ARB report described any of the members of the security team that took that private chartered flight from Tripoli to Benghazi as State Department personnel.

In a Nov. 2 piece in the Washington Post, David Ignatius reported--in a timeline described to him by a “senior intelligence official”--that the security team that flew to Benghazi on that chartered plane was in fact comprised of CIA people and military personnel working with the CIA.

In fact, the timeline Ignatius published in the Post seems to indicate the CIA chartered the plane.

“1:15 a.m.: CIA reinforcements arrive on a 45-minute flight from Tripoli in a plane they've hastily chartered,” reported Ignatius. “The Tripoli team includes four GRS [CIA Global Response Staff] security officers, a CIA case officer and two U.S. military personnel on loan to the agency. They don't leave the Benghazi airport until 4:30 a.m. The delay is caused by negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport; obtaining vehicles; and the need to frame a clear mission plan. The first idea is to go to a Benghazi hospital to recover Stevens, who they rightly suspect is already dead. (Also killed was a State Department communication specialist.) But the hospital is surrounded by the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia militia that mounted the consulate attack.”

(Like the State Department's ARB report, Ignatius's timeline indicates there were seven people on the chartered plane that flew from Tripoli to Benghazi--not the six claimed in the DOD timeline.)

According to descriptions of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist event published in the State Department ARB report, as well as in a report published by the Senate Homeland Security Committee report, and in a CIA timeline provided by a senior intelligence official, the U.S. personnel in Benghazi were targeted by a series of attacks that occurred at the State Department’s compound, at the CIA Annex, and on the road between the compound and the Annex. This first phase of attacks continued from 9:42 p.m. to about 1:00 a.m.—a span of almost three hours and twenty minutes.

The timeline published by David Ignatius in the Post says: “The attacks stop at 1:01 a.m., and some assume the fight is over.”

But it was not. About 4 hours and 15 minutes later, the terrorists struck again.

“The seven-person response team from Embassy Tripoli arrived in Benghazi to lend support,” said the ARB report. “It arrived at the Annex about 0500 local. Less than fifteen minutes later, the Annex came under mortar and RPG attack, with five mortar rounds impacting close together in under 90 seconds. Three rounds hit the roof of an Annex building, killing security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The attack also severely injured one ARSO [State Department regional security officer] and one Annex security team member.”

Amb. Stevens and State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith had died during the first phase of the attacks, at the State Department compound, in a building torched by the terrorists. The State Department security officers and CIA personnel had recovered Smith’s body from that building, but had not found Amb. Stevens before they were forced--by the threat of being overwhelmed by the attacking terrorists--to retreat under fire to the CIA Annex.

At 11:10 p.m. Libya time, which was about 20 minutes before the U.S. personnel were forced to retreat to from the State Department mission to the CIA Annex, an unarmed DOD drone arrived in the skies over Benghazi to monitor the events as they unfolded. U.S. Africa Command had redirected the drone to Benghazi at 9:59 p.m.  About seven hours later, at 5:00 a.m., another drone sent by DOD replaced this first one.

“9:59 pm An unarmed, unmanned, surveillance aircraft is directed to reposition overhead the Benghazi facility,” said the DOD timeline.

“11:10 pm The diverted surveillance aircraft arrives on station over the Benghazi facility,” said the DOD timeline.

“5:00 am A second, unmanned, unarmed surveillance aircraft is directed to relieve the initial asset still over Benghazi,” said the DOD timeline.

These unarmed drones could watch and show administration officials back in Washington what was happening in Benghazi, but they could do no more than that.

“There is no question that we could have moved an airplane in there and we could have also put boots on the ground at the embassy,” Gen. Boykin told CNSNews.com. “But just dealing with the aircraft issue, we could have moved a military plane in there, picked those people up, moved them to Benghazi. And, in fact, we could’ve gotten people moved by helicopter, launched them out of the Sixth Fleet or the naval base in Rota, Spain.”