When asked Thursday whether U.S. forces should have been dispatched to assist American servicemen under attack from terrorists in Benghazi on September 11, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta responded, “There’s a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on here,” adding that “the basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s taking place.”
Leave aside whether that's a sound principle in the first place. Now it turns out that we did in fact "know what [was] going on," and that we did have "real-time information about what [was] taking place."
The quick reaction force from the CIA annex...called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours -- enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.
A Special Operations team, or CIF which stands for Commanders in Extremis Force, operating in Central Europe had been moved to Sigonella, Italy, but they too were told to stand down. A second force that specializes in counterterrorism rescues was on hand at Sigonella, according to senior military and intelligence sources. According to those sources, they could have flown to Benghazi in less than two hours. They were the same distance to Benghazi as those that were sent from Tripoli. Specter gunships are commonly used by the Special Operations community to provide close air support.
According to sources on the ground, the special operator on the roof of the CIA annex had visual contact and a laser pointing at the Libyan mortar team that was targeting the CIA annex. The operators were calling in coordinates of where the Libyan forces were firing from.
Fox News has learned that there were two military surveillance drones redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack on the Consulate began. They were already in the vicinity. The second surveillance craft was sent to relieve the first drone, perhaps due to fuel issues. Both were capable of sending real time visuals back to US officials in Washington, D.C. Any U.S. official or agency with the proper clearance, including the White House Situation Room, State Department, CIA, Pentagon and others, could call up that video in real time on their computers.
Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were part of a Global Response Staff or GRS that provides security to CIA case officers and provides countersurveillance and surveillance protection. They were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m. Libyan time, nearly seven hours after the attack on the Consulate began -- a window that represented more than enough time for the U.S. military to send back-up from nearby bases in Europe, according to sources familiar with Special Operations. Four mortars were fired at the annex. The first one struck outside the annex. Three more hit the annex.
A motorcade of dozens of Libyan vehicles, some mounted with 50 caliber machine guns, belonging to the February 17th Brigades, a Libyan militia which is friendly to the US, finally showed up at the CIA annex at approximately 3 a.m. An American Quick Reaction Force sent from Tripoli had arrived at the Benghazi airport at 2 a.m. (four hours after the initial attack on the Consulate) and was delayed for 45 minutes at the airport because they could not at first get transportation, allegedly due to confusion among Libyan militias who were supposed to escort them to the annex, according to Benghazi sources.
In light of this remarkable and disturbing account, the American people are owed more from Secretary of Defense Panetta than glib and, as it now turns out, misleading statements about lacking real-time information necessary to deploy forces. The American people are also owed an explanation of decisions that were made from CIA chief David Petraeus.
But the buck stops with the president. It is inconceivable that decisions to send or not to send military forces to rescue CIA personnel would not have been presented to the president. (If they were not, that would be a scandal of the first order.) So the question is not so much what Leon Panetta or David Petraeus thought, or what they recommended. The question is what the president did that evening of September 11. Whom did President Obama speak with? What meetings did he convene? What decisions did he make? Why?
I would add this: The president must have been personally involved on the evening of September 11 in deciding what could and could not be done to rescue American operatives under enemy fire. The next morning, he would have known that two of them, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in the attack. Yet the president decided, after a brief statement in the Rose Garden, to fly off to Las Vegas and then Denver for a day and a half of political fundraisers and campaign events. What does this say about him?