Pentagon spokesman George Little said, “We have repeatedly stated that . . . our forces were unable to reach it in time to intervene to stop the attacks.” That is true only if the Pentagon is incapable of improvising. If you see people in a burning house, you do your best to help immediately; you don’t wait for the fire department to respond in a normal manner. If called upon, the Marines on Sigonella would have gathered whoever was on hand and piled into one of a dozen military planes parked at the base. The Benghazi airport 90 minutes away was secure; CIA operatives were standing on the runway, because they had improvised by hiring a plane and flying in from the embassy in Tripoli, 400 miles away. A fighter jet could have refueled at that airport, with the CIA providing cover. Instead, the military ordered four Special Operations soldiers at the Tripoli embassy not to fly to Benghazi and join the CIA team.
The military did nothing, except send a drone to watch the action. Defense Secretary Panetta later offered the excuse, “You can’t willy-nilly send F-16s there and blow the hell out of place. . . . You have to have good intelligence.” As a civilian, Mr. Panetta probably didn’t know that 99 percent of air sorties over Afghanistan never drop a single bomb. General Dempsey, however, knew it was standard procedure to roar menacingly over the heads of mobs, while not “blowing the hell out of them.” A show of air power does have a deterrent effect and is routinely employed.
A mortar shell killed two Americans during the tenth hour of the fight. A mortar tube can be detected from the air. The decision whether to then bomb should have resided with a pilot on-station — not back in Washington. As for the alleged lack of “good intelligence,” three U.S. operations centers were watching real-time video and talking by cell phone with those under attack. Surely that comprises “good intelligence.”