By Paul Wolfowitz no less. Worth a full read, with two comments from readers also included.
It is hard to understand why Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in discussing the US response to the attacks on two US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, offered this novel principle as a guide for US action – or inaction – during that crisis: “A basic principle is you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”
Of course, no such “basic principle” governs the conduct of US military personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere, who regularly go “into harm’s way” without “knowing what’s going on,” particularly when they know that American lives are in danger.
Panetta’s comment made it inevitable that people would question – as I did myself – President Obama’s claim that “The minute I found out what was happening . . . I gave the directive to make sure we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to do. I guarantee you everybody in the CIA and military knew the number-one priority was making sure our people are safe.” If that was true, did Panetta’s comment mean that the military was disregarding a clear instruction from the president?
From what I can determine from talking with someone who has spoken directly with key general officers and others involved in the US response to the Benghazi attacks, it would appear that – contrary to Panetta’s “basic principle” – the US did almost everything possible to protect our people once the attacks had started, though not in advance:
The Consulate was overrun in a matter of minutes, before any help was possible.
A team that appears to have been CIA personnel deployed quickly (and bravely) from the Annex to the Consulate and rescued everyone they found alive there. (It’s not clear whether Ambassador Stevens had already been taken by Libyans to the hospital or whether they simply failed to find him.)
A mainly CIA response force deployed quickly from Tripoli to reinforce the Annex and facilitate its successful evacuation.
Decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been. The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.
Also, the European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.
Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.
There was no AC-130 gunship in the region.
The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.
The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that. In any case, the decision not to do so was made by the tactical commander, General Ham, as it should have been.
READER (WEEWAYNE) COMMENT #1:
Secretary Panetta’s infamous attempt at writing military doctrine with his statements to the press:
“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, and as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”
Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting the following passage on pages 86 and 87:
“We must have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty–and to accept full responsibility for those decisions–when the natural inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information. To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows a lack of moral courage. We do not want to make rash decisions, but we must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information. Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battlefield problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one.”
READER (MORTI) COMMENT #2:
I’d appreciate it if I could get answers to the following questions about sending an F-16 from Aviano to Benghazi
1. Is it not true that the distance by air from Aviano to Benghazi is about 1050 miles?
2. Is it not true that at maximum speed an F-16 can fly said distance within an hour?
3. Is it not true that an F-16 can carry ground-to-air rockets that can be precisely guided to target by a laser designator?
4. Is it not true that the former SEALS who fought at the Annex “painted” the mortar that was firing at them with a laser designator?
5. Is it not true that the F-16 is equipped with a Vulcan 20 mm Gatling gun which can be used to attack ground targets?
6. Is it not true that the former SEALS fighting at the Annex reported that there were terrorists fighting them and not civilians and that there were no innocent civilians at the scene of battle?
7. If the answer to the questions above is TRUE , than could someone explain to me, why for the love of God , didn’t the U.S. armed forces rush to the battle to save their warriors.
Phi Beta Iota: The absence of integrated Whole of Government intelligence-operations centers for each theater of operations is again noted. Bearing in mind the complete inadequacy of funding for the training, equipping, and organizing of “diplomats” (most more like senior clerks) in world with over 150 failed states, what jumps out from all of the reporting on Benghazi is the complete ignorance of the State Department's politically-appointed leadership with respect to what consistute's harms way; the complete lack of discussion between State and Defense on a spectrum of security propositions, both preventive and reactive for Benghazi; and therefore the relative inadequacy of Defense at both the political level (Panetta was clearly confused and hesitant) and the command level (Ham appears to have had it right, but the pre-positioning of assets was not done for lack of on-going situational awareness at AFRICOM, which has a very weak J-2 and probably also has the runt of the litter in the J-3. One hopes that henceforth the J-3 will be tasked with having a contingency plan when Ambassadors travel outside their capital cities and security is known beforehand to be inadequate — which is to say, across most of Africa.