How the best military in the world came to having only one real choice in a terrorist attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. citizens is the story of an ill-equipped commander.

U.S. Africa Command, which oversees military options in North Africa, had no access to AC-130 gunships or to armed drones, such as the Predator, that could have killed the attackers from the air.

The command also lacked ground forces and had to look to others for help. Two quick-reaction special operations units — one from central Europe, the other from the United States — would arrive in Sicily, but it was too late for insertion into Benghazi’s chaotic streets on the evening of Sept. 11 when the attack erupted. The siege by militants at the U.S. Consulate and a CIA base ended hours before the morning of Sept. 12.

The F-16s never took off. Army Gen. Carter Ham, who heads Africa Command, put two unarmed drones into the air, one at a time, over the consulate and the CIA base a mile away. The video feed reaching him and other leaders at the Pentagon and CIA showed a confused picture with sporadic fire from different locations. There was the risk of bombing civilians in the snug residential neighborhood.