American diplomats in Benghazi made even more urgent pleas for beefed up security than previously thought and officials also refused to consider at least five military scenarios that could have saved the lives of two Americans in the 2012 terrorist attacks, according to a new book chronicling the heroism of Navy SEALs.
In “Eyes on Target: Inside Stories from the Brotherhood of the U.S. Navy SEALs,” authors Richard Miniter and Scott McEwen point to newly discovered government reports showing Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues desperately requesting additional security and better personnel than the suspect Libyans already on the job. Those intelligence reports came in addition to multiple requests for additional security.
“We discovered three intelligence reports that circulated in the months before the attack. Each of those reports show intelligence agencies warning the State Department (and) warning the Defense Department there’s an Al Qaeda build-up in Benghazi. One of those reports included photographs of more than 300 Al Qaeda operatives in Martyr’s Square. That’s downtown Benghazi. That’s less than a mile from the diplomatic outpost where the ambassador died,” said Miniter.
“In those photographs in the intelligence report, they show them waving guns. There’s a quote mentioned in this intelligence report in which the leader of Al Qaeda in Benghazi said if the U.S. doesn’t leave they were going to kill the U.S. Ambassador. You can’t get any clearer than that,” said Miniter.
“Somewhere in the bowels of the State Department there’s a bureaucrat who has got the three intelligence reports and on the other part of his desk he’s got the three or four security requests from the ambassador begging for more security guards. After reading those intelligence reports and seeing those pictures, he stamped each one of those denied, denied, denied,” he said.
The attack in Benghazi came just weeks before the 2012 presidential election and while President Obama’s campaign portrayed Al Qaeda as effectively dismantled and the ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi as a major victory, wouldn’t a quiet increase in security be a less risky decision than leaving a diplomatic post vulnerable to attack?
Miniter says it was a political calculation.
“They were concerned that if somehow the American public were to learn that there was additional security for the ambassador or the diplomatic staff in Benghazi, it would take away the two winning arguments that they thought they had on foreign policy,” said Miniter. “So if they admitted that there was a massive Al Qaeda build-up in Libya, that crosses off their two foreign policy successes and undermines the president’s case for re-election. So as crassly political as it was, that appears to be the motivation, according to the Benghazi eyewitnesses. These are participants in the tragedy that we interviewed.”
While Ambassador Stevens and diplomat Sean Smith were killed within the first 40 minutes of the initial attack, Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty fought on for another seven hours. While the Obama administration contends any military response would have taken 20 hours to mobilize and reach the fighting, “Eyes on Target” offers five different different response scenarios that Miniter and McEwen say would have ended the fighting much sooner and most likely saved the lives of Woods and Doherty.
The options ranged from Air Force fighters from Aviano Air Base to Navy fighters in Gaeta, both located in Italy to a drone strike and even a cruise missile strike from the Mediterranean Sea. Miniter says the mere presence of fighter jets would have ended the crisis.
“The scenario that seems the best is simply dispatching F-16 Fighters from Italy and having them fly over Benghazi. The loud jet roar overhead would be enough to scatter the attackers. They certainly know that when facing the U.S. Air Force or U.S. Navy in the sky, death comes from above. With more than a hundred attackers, mortars, rocket attacks they would know that they were targets. Without firing a shot they could have been driven off. That’s the kind of thing that President Obama, who doesn’t like combat, would tend to favor,” said.
In addition to denying permission for Doherty to go to Benghazi and any other sort of military intervention, “Eyes on Target” details the Obama administration’s paralysis in making any decisions on response to the attack. After an early evening briefing from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Obama was out of contact the rest of the night. So should he bear any blame for failing to launch military action or does the responsibility lie with Panetta?
“While Americans were fighting and dying in Benghazi, the president was unreachable. According to congressional testimony, Panetta’s last conversation with the president was before 6:30 p.m. Washington time. Remember, Glen Doherty and Ty Woods, the two SEALs who fought to save the Americans wouldn’t die for almost another seven hours. In that period, the president disappeared. He refused to take calls,” said Miniter.
Eighteen months later, the Benghazi investigation essentially falls along party lines, with Democrats saying there is no scandal and Republicans are on a fishing expedition and the GOP accusing the administration of leaving Americans on the field of battle and concocting a story around a spontaneous demonstration spurred by an internet video to deflect from the many security warnings.
Will the final story on Benghazi simply be a matter of political opinion? Miniter doesn’t think so.
“Ultimately, I think this is going to be a turning point in the country’s assessment of the president. The media are supposed to be referees, but instead they’re on the field being players. Too many of the media are simply playing to the White House’s agenda. Really, they should be watchdogs, not lapdogs,” said Miniter.