Pentagon releases Benghazi timeline: took 19 hours to respond

Ah, the Friday night news dump, a tradition that transcends party in Washington DC.  Is there nothing it can’t underplay?  Yesterday, more than two months after the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead and the American response a confused mess, the Pentagon finally got around to releasing its version of the timeline of military response to the crisis to the Associated Press — when most newspapers and broadcast networks had closed up shop for the day.  Small wonder, too, because the timeline showed that it took 19 hours for military assistance to arrive (via Twitchy):

New Pentagon details show that the first U.S. military unit arrived in Libya more than 15 hours after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was over, and four Americans, including the ambassador, were dead.

A Defense Department timeline obtained by The Associated Press underscores how far the military response lagged behind the Sept. 11 attack, due largely to the long distances the commando teams had to travel to get to Libya.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his top military adviser were notified of the attack about 50 minutes after it began and were about to head into a previously scheduled meeting with President Barack Obama. The meeting quickly turned into a discussion of potential responses to the unfolding situation in Benghazi, where militants had surrounded the consulate and set it on fire. The first wave of the attack at the consulate lasted less than two hours. …

But there have been persistent questions about whether the Pentagon should have moved more rapidly to get troops into Libya or had units closer to the area as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America approached. In particular, there was at least a 19-hour gap between the time when Panetta first ordered military units to prepare to deploy – between midnight and 2 a.m. local time in Tripoli – and the time a Marine anti-terrorism team landed in Tripoli, which as just before 9 p.m.

Why so long?  The Pentagon claims that the situation was “murky,” that they didn’t understand whether a hostage situation might develop, and also claimed not to have been aware of any specific threats.  That would be news to anyone following the Benghazi story in some depth.  Ambassador Chris Stevens warned repeatedly of threats to the Benghazi mission for months, requesting more security.  On the day of the attack, three hours before it began and roughly five hours before Stevens was killed, the Benghazi consulate alerted State that radical Islamist terrorists had begun “gathering weapons and gathering steam,” plus a note that their security team of Libyan militia had taken pictures inside the compound for no apparent reason earlier that day.

Put this in the context of the date and place.  The attack took place on the anniversary of 9/11, when we expect terrorist activity to take place in celebration of their biggest victory over the US.  It took place in Benghazi, where the US government and everyone else knew these terrorist groups acted openly, having been freed from the oppression of the Qaddafi regime by Barack Obama and NATO a year earlier.  The Benghazi mission was in the middle of a city that had no effective government control.  And the reason that the Pentagon couldn’t anticipate the attack on Benghazi and have its assets positioned for immediate response, with all of the above intel, would be … ?

Panetta said that based on a continuous evaluation of threats, military forces were spread around Europe and the Middle East to deal with a variety of missions. In the months before the attack, he noted, “several hundred reports were received indicating possible threats to U.S. facilities around the world” and noted that there was no advance notice of imminent threats to U.S. personnel or facilities in Benghazi.

If that’s true, then what did the State Department and Hillary Clinton do with all of those warnings from Stevens about Benghazi, including the one from earlier that day?  Did Clinton and State never bother to inform Panetta?  That seems to be what the Pentagon timeline and the AP’s reporting suggests — that the first time that Panetta thought there was a credible threat against the Benghazi consulate was in the meeting with Obama 50 minutes after the attack started.

John McCain, for one, isn’t buying that explanation:

His explanation, however, did not satisfy McCain. In a statement Friday, McCain said Panetta’s letter, “only confirms what we already knew – that there were no forces at a sufficient alert posture in Europe, Africa or the Middle East to provide timely assistance to our fellow citizens in need in Libya. The letter fails to address the most important question – why not?”

Why not, indeed?  Why did the US get caught with its pants down on the anniversary of 9/11 in what had widely been known as Terrorist Central, a situation directly caused by American and NATO intervention in Libya 17 months earlier?  State is pointing fingers at the CIA and Pentagon, intel is pointing theirs back to State, and now so is the Pentagon.  But this all begins at the White House and an apparent lack of curiosity about the wide-open environment provided to terrorist groups by our decapitation of the Qaddafi regime and the security consequences for American interests.

All of the Friday night document dumps in the world won’t cover for that.  And I can’t help but wonder who’s sex scandal will distract from the next Friday night document dump when it occurs.

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