The U.S. military had no time to react fast enough to save the life of Amb. Chris Stevens the night the mission in Benghazi was overrun by armed attackers, an independent investigation of the incident has determined.
The finding by the Accountability Review Board, which includes former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Amb. Mike Mullen and former Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering (pictured above arriving in Congress, on Wednesday), was released in the group’s final report on Tuesday. The panel supports Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s assertion, first made in October, that the military did not have enough time to rescue the Americans under attack on Sept. 11.
“There simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” the panel concluded. The authors praised the speed of the medical evacuation operation AFRICOM was able to muster from Tripoli to Germany, and the arrival of a Marine FAST response team to protect the embassy in Tripoli on Sept. 12.
The report does not address, however, Panetta’s additional assertions that Gen. Carter Ham, AFRICOM commander, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, also determined during the attack that they did not have enough information to justify the risk of sending troops to aid the Benghazi victims in any capacity.
“I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation,” Panetta said at the time, though he insisted contingency troops were available in the region.
Ham revealed in a recent George Washington University appearance
that AFRICOM in October created its own rapid-response force, but not in response to the Benghazi attack. Previously, the command shared a force with European Command. “It was a planned transition,” Ham said.
The new AFRICOM-dedicated Commander’s in-Extremis Force gives Africa its own capacity for small teams of special operations forces trained in counterterrorism to respond at a moment’s notice to events in the area. It will be based in Fort Carson, Colo., but likely team members will be forward deployed closer to Africa, according to Stars and Stripes
, which first reported the development this week.
The Benghazi report mostly critiques the performance of State Department security operations before, during, and after the attack. For the military, the panel concluded that communications and coordination between Washington and Libya, including AFRICOM, was effective.
The military wasn’t entirely stagnant the night of the attacks. AFRICOM moved a drone over Benghazi shortly before the diplomatic security team departed, the panel determined. A second drone relieved the first to continue surveillance into the next day. Meanwhile, U.S. Embassy and other personnel who evacuated Benghazi for Tripoli later were picked up by an AirForce C-17, sent with a C-130 from Germany, to evacuate the wounded. The report said the military’s coordination of medical teams saved the lives of two Americans. Several wounded departed for Ramstein Airbase the afternoon of Sept. 12 on the C-17, with the help of the Libyan government.