What did the command structure of the military and intelligence communities know about the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, and when did they know it? And why, in any case, were neither prepared to respond to an attack on one of the most obviously vulnerable American diplomatic outposts — on the anniversary of 9/11? The House Oversight Committee heard testimony today from a man near the top of both command structures, retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell, who served as Deputy Director for Intelligence and Knowledge Development Directorate for AFRICOM at the time of the attack. Lovell insisted that intelligence knew full well that the attack on Benghazi had nothing to do with a YouTube video from the very beginning of the attack:
Lovell also sternly testified that the US should have provided some kind of response when the attack began. Katie Pavlich reports on his testimony:
“Many with firsthand knowledge have recounted the heroism displayed by the brave Americans in Benghazi that night. They fought the way they trained. That is in the record. Outside of Libya there were discussions that churned on about what we should do. These elements also fought the way they were trained. Specifically, the predisposition to interagency influence had the military structure—in the spirit of expeditionary government support—waiting for a request for assistance from the State Department. There are accounts of time, space and capability discussions of the question, could we have gotten there in time to make a difference. Well, the discussion is not in the “could or could not” in relation to time, space and capability—the point is we should have tried. As another saying goes: “Always move to the sound of the guns,” Lovell said. “It is with a sense of duty as a retired General officer that I respectfully submit these thoughts and perspectives.”
Lovell also confirmed again that the 9/11 Benghazi attack was not a result of a demonstration but instead was a well planned out assault and said the situation of holding back help made the military feel “desperate.”
“The military should have made a response of some sort,” he said.
Further, Lovell said people on the ground that night knew it was an attack from al Qaeda almost immediately.
“We didn’t know how long this would last when we became aware of the distress nor did we completely understand what we had in front of us, be it a kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above,” Lovell said. “But what we did know quite early on was that this was a hostile action. This was no demonstration gone terribly awry.”
USA Today points out that Lovell’s testimony directly contradicts the story told by the Obama administration about the initial talking points used and the information provided to the White House:
Lovell’s testimony contradicts the story that the Obama administration gave in the early days following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Consulate that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Back then the administration insisted that the best intelligence it had from CIA and other officials indicated that the attack was a protest against an anti-Islam video that turned violent.
Lovell’s testimony is the first from a member of the military who was at Africa Command at the time of the attack. Lovell was deputy director for intelligence at Africa Command.
Why didn’t AFRICOM provide an immediate response? Lovell says State never called them to ask for one:
Lovell did not question the Pentagon claim that it could not have scrambled forces in the region quickly enough to have prevented the deaths of the Americans. Lovell said no one at the time of the attack knew how long it would go, so could not have determined then that there was no use in trying.
“As the attack was ongoing, it was unclear whether it was an attempted kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above,” Lovell said.
While people on the ground were fighting for their lives, discussions among U.S. leaders outside Libya “churned on about what we should do,” but the military waited for a request for assistance from the State Department, Lovell said.
In other words, no one at State answered the 3 AM phone call, or made one when it was needed.
Republicans have begun to press for a select committee investigation into Benghazi. The sudden discovery that the White House hid memos and this new testimony from Lovell should remove all obstacles to the broader, unified probe. Clearly some have not told the truth about what happened and why we had no response to the terrorist attack on our facilities despite months of warnings about it. The deaths of four Americans demand better accountability than what this administration has been willing to provide.