By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
Newly released information about the location of military assets on the night of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in 2012 has been met with a yawn by the mainstream media, but it has caused quite a stir in the conservative press.
Most of the media are following the lead of the Obama administration, arguing that while the outcome in Benghazi was regrettable, it was merely due to mistakes that have since been addressed and it’s long past time to move on. Any suggestion of this being a scandal, that narrative goes, is the result of Fox News and talk-radio pushing an agenda, combined with thinly disguised racism. We have shown time and again why this is, in fact, a very real and significant scandal, and should be seen as such by the media and Congress.
Several congressional and administration reports consider the military response to Benghazi to have been justifiable. “The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” concluded the Accountability Review Board (ARB) back in December 2012. “As the only military member of the ARB, I personally reviewed all of the military assets that were in theater and available,” Admiral Michael Mullen, Vice Chair of the ARB, said in an interview in June of last year. This board was largely handpicked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate Benghazi, but she was never interviewed by them.
Now, Americans have gotten a glimpse into which naval forces were active on September 11, 2012, and can judge for themselves. A new map has been released by Judicial Watch that details the location of multiple ships in the region. Judicial Watch has done an excellent job in reporting on and analyzing the situation in Benghazi, and their Freedom of Information requests have yielded significant information.
However, the fact that there were many ships in the area does not necessarily mean that they provided the instant military capacity to have affected the outcome. The far-left Mother Jones publication has argued, “This Map Is Not the Benghazi Smoking Gun Conservatives Think It Is.” This is because “Most of the ‘dozens’ of ships were nowhere near Benghazi, and the list includes many vessels that wouldn’t do much good in a rescue situation,” wrote Tim Murphy for MoJo. In this instance, they may have stumbled on the truth.
The Navy noted in a letter to the Freedom of Information Act requester that “ENTERPRISE was approximately 3350 nautical miles from Benghazi. Assuming a 20 knot transit speed and no Suez Canal delays, the transit would take approximately 168 hours or seven days.” And the closest amphibious vessel, IWO JIMA, was “underway in the Gulf of Oman,” wrote Captain B.C. Nickerson for the Navy.
In other words, no naval help was on its way that night and the best help was too far away to make a difference.
But the real story here is not that there were military assets in the immediate area that weren’t used to rescue the Americans under attack in Benghazi. Rather it is that this newly released information underscores the fact that there should have been forces on hand and ready to deal with this kind of situation.
Not only had the British and the Red Cross pulled out of Libya after previous attacks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had released a videotape the day before the attacks in Benghazi—which should have served as a warning—and Ambassador Chris Stevens had sent urgent cables back to Washington pointing out the inadequate security situation that existed there.
I asked a couple of top retired military leaders to comment on the newly released map of naval assets in the area.
“There were only 7 ships, none of which were in position to do anything to respond to the attack on the [Special Mission Compound],” said Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi (CCB) member Admiral James “Ace” Lyons (Ret., USN) in an email to AIM. “One carrier was just coming through the Straits of Malacca, having just left Singapore and the other carrier was in the North Arabian Sea, none of which would have been useful in countering the attack.”
“Had we had a carrier in the Mediterranean or an Amphibious Ready Group, we could have done something meaningful, that is assuming the chain of command was interested,” writes Admiral Lyons. “However, the bottom line remains unchanged—‘we didn’t even try.’”
Lyons has previously pointed out that the U.S. had a “130-man Marine force recon team” at Sigonella, a Naval air station in Sicily, Italy, that could have been there within two or three hours. The time from the start of the attacks in Benghazi until they were done was approximately eight hours.
Another member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, Retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, told AIM that the “Bottom line to me is that the Administration deliberately did not have ships positioned at the most vulnerable/highest risk locations in the Mediterranean on 9/11/12!”
The question remains, why was the Navy—and the rest of the military—so poorly positioned for the anniversary of September 11th that year? The House Armed Services Committee (HASC), in its most recent majority-authored interim report, said that it would continue to “evaluate why DOD found it unnecessary to begin to prepare fighters and make other arrangements, especially in light of the concern that the hostilities could spread to Tripoli.”
“As noted, above, the majority members believe the White House’s pre-September 11 security review failed in that it did not result in direction to the Department of Defense to react to the deteriorating security environment in Libya,” they write. If these military assets were actually not available to support Benghazi in the face of ongoing threats, we must ask, ‘Why not?’”
That is just one of many questions about Benghazi for which there are still no satisfactory answers.