Retired Admiral James A. Lyons likely pulled few punches as commander in chief of the US Pacific Fleet during his career … and he hasn’t started pulling punches now, either. In a blistering column at The Washington Times, the former commander blasts the lack of action from the US when the administration learned our consulate in Benghazi had come under attack, writing that “courage was lacking” that might have saved at least some of the four American lives lost on September 11. “Someone high up in the administration,” Lyons writes, “let our people get killed” — and he wants some answers immediately as to whom:
The Obama national security team, including CIA, DNI, State Department and the Pentagon, watched and listened to the assault but did nothing to answer repeated calls for assistance. It has been reported that President Obama met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in the Oval Office, presumably to see what support could be provided. After all, we had very credible military resources within striking distance. At our military base in Sigonella, Sicily, which is slightly over 400 miles from Benghazi, we had a fully equipped Special Forces unit with both transport and jet strike aircraft prepositioned. Certainly this was a force much more capable than the 22-man force from our embassy in Tripoli.
I know those Special Forces personnel were ready to leap at the opportunity. There is no doubt in my mind they would have wiped out the terrorists attackers. Also I have no doubt that Admiral William McRaven, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, would have had his local commander at Sigonella ready to launch; however, apparently he was countermanded—by whom? We need to know.
I also understand we had a C-130 gunship available, which would have quickly disposed of the terrorist attackers. This attack went on for seven hours. Our fighter jets could have been at our Benghazi mission within an hour. Our Special Forces out of Sigonella could have been there within a few hours. There is not any doubt that action on our part could have saved the lives of our two former Navy SEALs and possibly the ambassador.
Having been in a number of similar situations, I know you have to have the courage to do what’s right and take immediate action. Obviously, that courage was lacking for Benghazi. The safety of your personnel always remains paramount. With all the technology and military capability we had in theater, for our leadership to have deliberately ignored the pleas for assistance is not only incomprehensible, it is un-American.
There has been plenty of speculation as to what Ambassador Chris Stevens was doing in Benghazi in the first place, which Lyons touches on in his column. Even apart from that, though, this argument above is the key to the failure of the American response. We always come to the aid of our diplomatic missions when under attack, especially with as many assets in the area as we had at the time. It’s worth noting that we intervened militarily in Libya in the first place to prevent a massacre of civilians by Moammar Qaddafi in Benghazi — and now we’re supposed to believe that we couldn’t coordinate a military response to an attack in that same city on our own consulate in seven hours?
Here’s another curiosity, too. General Carter Han, who commanded AFRICOM on September 11th, had already been rotated back home. Now we find out he’s leaving the Army altogether:
General Carter F. Ham, the Combatant Commander of Africa Command (AFRICOM) and a key figure in the Benghazi-gate controversy, is leaving the Army. On October 18, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had announced that General Ham would be succeeded at AFRICOM by General David Rodriguez. Later speculation tied this decision to the fallout from the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. However on Monday October 29 a defense official told The Washington Times that “the decision [to leave AFRICOM] was made by General Ham. He ably served the nation for nearly forty years and retires after a distinguished career.” Previously all that was known was that General Ham would be rotating out of AFRICOM at some future date, but not that he was leaving the service. General Ham is a few years short of the mandatory retirement age of 64, but it is not unusual for someone of that rank to retire after serving in such a significant command.
James Robbins notes that the White House insisted that Ham took part in the decision not to supply assistance to the consulate, but Ham told Rep. Jason Chaffetz that no one had asked him about it. Ham’s retirement could mean that the Pentagon had some sort of disciplinary action pending against him over the incident (also the subject of much speculation, but little in the way of direct sourcing), or it could have a different meaning altogether. It would be inappropriate for Ham to criticize his Commander in Chief while still in uniform, although he could go to Congress to report any perceived malfeasance at any time.