A top U.S. diplomat will testify Wednesday that as fighting raged in Benghazi, Libya, in the early morning hours of September 12, 2012, military officials in the region told a second rescue team preparing to deploy from Tripoli to Benghazi not to make the trip.
In an interview with the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month, Greg Hicks, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Libya during the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, recalled his conversations with Libyan government officials and U.S. military leaders as he tried to get support to U.S. diplomatic and intelligence officials under attack in Benghazi. Hicks says he received a call from the Prime Minister of Libya shortly after 3am informing him that Ambassador Chris Stevens had been killed. Hicks became the top US diplomat in Libya after Stevens died.
In the hours that followed, Hicks says, the Libyan military agreed to fly a C-130 from Tripoli to Benghazi in the early morning hours of September 12 – a flight that was to include a second team of Special Operations soldiers – dispatched from the Libyan capital to join a team sent earlier to Benghazi. But as those reinforcements were leaving for the flight, they were told to stand down. Hicks received the news in an early morning phone call from a top military commander in the region.
“So Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, who is the SOCAFRICA commander, his team, you know, they were on their way to the vehicles to go to the airport to get on the C‑130 when he got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can't go now, you don't have authority to go now,’’ Hicks recalled. “And so they missed the flight.”
Pushed to clarify whether they second rescue missed flight because they were told not to take it, Hicks responded: “They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”
Hicks says he was talking to officials in Washington all night but because the C-130 would be taking off from Mitiga International Airport, on the other side of Tripoli, he didn’t have time to push anyone in the United States to reverse the decision. “The flight was leaving. And, you know, if they missed ‑‑ you know, if the vehicles didn't leave when they leave, they would miss the flight time at the airport.”
Hicks remembers Gibson saying: “I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.”
The team would have likely arrived after the fighting in Benghazi had ended, but those who made the decision not to send them had no way of knowing that when they ordered them to remain in Tripoli.
Hicks will also tell the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday that military officials twice declined to send air support to Benghazi because the U.S. military didn’t have “tanker assets” to support the trip from Aviano, Italy.