Opinion: Timeline would clarify Libya events

November 1, 2012


— The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has become a political football in the presidential campaign, with all the grandstanding and misinformation that entails. But Fox News has raised some questions about the attack that deserve a clearer answer from the Obama administration.

Fox’s Jennifer Griffin reported Friday that CIA officers in Benghazi had been told to “stand down” when they wanted to deploy from their base at the annex to repel the attack on the consulate, about a mile away. Fox also reported that the CIA officers requested military support when the annex came under fire later that night but that their request had been denied.

The Benghazi tragedy was amplified by Charles Woods, the father of slain CIA contractor Tyrone Woods. He told Fox’s Sean Hannity that White House officials who didn’t authorize military strikes to save the embattled CIA annex were “cowards” and “are guilty of murdering my son.”

The Fox “stand down” story prompted a strong rebuttal from the CIA: “We can say with confidence that the agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi. Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.”

So what did happen in Benghazi the night of Sept. 11 when Woods, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two others were killed? The best way to establish the facts would be a detailed, unclassified timeline of events; officials say they are preparing one, and that it may be released later this week. That’s a must, even in the volatile final week of the campaign. In the meantime, here’s a summary of some of the basic issues that need to be clarified.

First, on the question of whether Woods and others were made to wait when they asked permission to move out immediately to try to rescue those at the consulate. The answer seems to be yes, but not for very long. There was a brief, initial delay — two people said it was about 20 minutes — before Woods was allowed to leave. One official said Woods and at least one other CIA colleague were “in the car revving the engine,” waiting for permission to go. Woods died about six hours later after he returned to the annex.

The main reason for the delay, several sources said, was that CIA officials were making urgent contact with a Libyan militia, known as the February 17 Brigade, which was the closest thing to an organized security force in Benghazi. The U.S. depends on local security to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities everywhere, and officials wanted to coordinate any response to the consulate attack. After this delay, Woods and his colleague proceeded to the consulate.

Here’s my question: Was it wise to depend on a Libyan militia that clearly wasn’t up to the job? Could it have made a difference for those under attack at the consulate if Woods had moved out as soon as he was, in one official’s words, “saddled and ready”?

Second, why didn’t the U.S. send armed drones or other air assistance to Benghazi immediately? This one is harder to answer. The CIA did dispatch a quick reaction force that night from Tripoli, with about eight people, but it had trouble at first reaching the compound. One of its members, Glen Doherty, died along with Woods when a mortar hit the roof of the annex about 4 a.m.

What more could have been done? A Joint Special Operations Command team was moved that night to Sigonella air base in Sicily, for quick deployment to Benghazi or any of the other U.S. facilities in danger that night across North Africa. Armed drones could also have been sent. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last Thursday summarized the administration’s decision to opt for caution: “You don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”

Looking back, it may indeed have been wise not to bomb targets in Libya that night. Given the uproar in the Arab world, this might have been the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a burning fire. But the anguish of Woods’ father is understandable: His son’s life might have been saved by a more aggressive response. The Obama administration needs to level with the country about why it made its decisions.

A final, obvious point: The “fog of battle” that night was dense not just in Benghazi but in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere. U.S. officials needed better intelligence. That’s the toughest problem to address, but the most important.  

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.     


JonasGrumby 5 years, 6 months ago

POINT: "The basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place, and as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation." - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding the Obama admin's failure to respond the the 7-hour attack on our consulate in Benghazi

COUNTERPOINT: "We must have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty--and to accept full responsibility for those decisions--when the natural inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information. To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows a lack of moral courage. We do not want to make rash decisions, but we must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information. Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battlefield problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one." - Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting

Fox News has also uncovered the smoking gun regarding concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Libya: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/10/31/exclusive-us-memo-warned-libya-consulate-couldnt-withstand-coordinated-attack/

This is a major Obama admin scandal and the mainstream media are asleep at the wheel.

msezdsit 5 years, 6 months ago

"This is a major Obama admin scandal and the mainstream media are asleep at the wheel."

Fox has overreacted in order to manufacture a false scandal. The mainstream media has dealt with the situation in a "normal" manner and has shown respect for the deceased Americans by not turning their deaths into a political football for the sole purpose of moving their biased agenda forward.

msezdsit 5 years, 6 months ago

The world according to fox. You can put your head back up chicken littles cheeks.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps clarifications will be more forthcoming late next week, after the event scheduled for Tuesday have been completed.

John Hamm 5 years, 6 months ago

The WH is covering something and it's big. Why were the two top military commanders in the area relieved of their command? One within minutes of stating he was going to send assistance, the second within the past few days due to an "investigation" stemming from something occurring two weeks ago.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 6 months ago

Americans being killed by terrorists is petty nonsense?

beatrice 5 years, 6 months ago

No, the Republican reaction is the petty nonsense. The call to bring those to justice who are responsible for the murders is exactly what Romney said he would do. So yes, it is petty nonsense, but what else can we expect from Republicans right now?

Liberty275 5 years, 6 months ago

I wonder if she missed your question or just didn't want to answer.

Briseis 5 years, 6 months ago

How can the President know where Osama is hidden away in a building not owned by Americans but not know where AQ terrorists are in an American owned compound full of Americans on a 911 day celebrated by terrorists ?

I am still voting for Obama because of government entitlements. I was just wondering why he didn't know about the terrorists.

beatrice 5 years, 6 months ago

So should the previous administration known about terrorists living IN America prior to 9/11?

Sorry, but our intelligence on terrorists is not unlimited. Some things do get past our most careful watch.

beatrice 5 years, 6 months ago

And what did the Bush administration do about it once they were in office?

Flap Doodle 5 years, 6 months ago

The clumsy excuses being put forward by the apologists for the current regime are not optimal. (from a source)

Liberty275 5 years, 6 months ago

Optimum excuse.

Optimal excuse.

Both are adjectives. Why is one valid and the other not? I'm a semi-sentient hick, so if you would explain the difference I would appreciate it.

And post a video so I can post another one.

notaubermime 5 years, 6 months ago

The tinfoil hats are thick on this thread.

yanman 5 years, 6 months ago

It's amazing anyone can think this cover up is trivial and it's just the Republican’s playing politics with this. A United States Ambassador was killed along with three other Americans and our President is not giving the American people all the facts. This from the man who told us he would run the most transparent administration in history. I think he meant to stay the most corrupt administration in history. Believe me, had this been a Republican administration the main stream media would be making this the huge story that it is. What the heck are they teaching the journalism students these days? Real journalism in this country is hanging on by a thread. Most journalists are now on the same respect level as corrupt politicians and ambulance chasing attorneys. To hear the president say he called this a terrorist act the day after it occurred but then to have multiple members of his administration say for almost a week after it was the result of a video leads me to believe the man is either a liar or plain incompetent. In the President’s case, I can believe either. God help this country if President Obama is voted in for a 2nd term.

notaubermime 5 years, 6 months ago

I take this all about as seriously as I took the people who wanted to blame Bush for the first 9/11 attacks. In fact, all one has to do to transform your post into a 9/11 conspiracy post is remove political party specific references and change the death toll. Something like:

"It's amazing anyone can think this isn't a cover up. More than 4,000 United States citizens were killed and our President is not giving the American People all the facts. What the heck are they teaching the journalism students these days? Real journalism in this country is hanging on by a thread. Most journalists are now on the same respect level as corrupt politicians and ambulance chasing attorneys. To hear the official story say that the towers were brought down by an airplane crash when jet fuel combustion is incapable of reaching the melting temperature of steel leads me to think the official investigators is either lying or plain incompetent. God help this country if President Bush is voted in for a 2nd term."

Greg Cooper 5 years, 6 months ago

Name them, then, and give rebuttal. Sounds just like the post it's modeled after, but changed to reflect the silliness of the original.

notaubermime 5 years, 6 months ago

I accept that not everybody understands my point right off the bat.

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years, 6 months ago

Chickenhawks on this board, if in control, would have indiscriminately started bombing and escalating the situation first, and ask questions later, producing yet another ill-founded, expensive and deadly situation for our troops. Chest-pounding and saber-rattling without good information is exactly what our President avoided, to all our benefit.

Letting cooler minds prevail. No wonder Colin Powell has endorsed Obama over Romney.

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years, 6 months ago

Ooh you did a Sununu. Way to go with the race card. Colin had many, many reasons explaining his endorsement, none of them race. Had you any credibility left, it would have just gone out the window.

And Paul who?

Trumbull 5 years, 6 months ago

I think a timeline would be helpful. I'm ok with what has been released to date if information is still be gathered. My own belief until all the facts come out is that there was a lot of chaos and confusion as would be normal under an embassy attack on foreign soil. There were some mistakes before, during, and after the surprise attack....which is not unusual. This was after all an extraordinary attack. I do not believe that a cover up happened, but it is possible. I do believe that the incident is being exploited by some.....but some are only questioning and want information.

Did we get the same outrage about bad intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction?

Flap Doodle 5 years, 6 months ago

And then: "...CBS News has learned that during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Obama Administration did not convene its top interagency counterterrorism resource: the Counterterrorism Security Group, (CSG). "The CSG is the one group that's supposed to know what resources every agency has. They know of multiple options and have the ability to coordinate counterterrorism assets across all the agencies," a high-ranking government official told CBS News. "They were not allowed to do their job. They were not called upon." Information shared with CBS News from top counterterrorism sources in the government and military reveal keen frustration over the U.S. response on Sept. 11, the night ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other Americans were killed in a coordinated attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. The circumstances of the attack, including the intelligence and security situation there, will be the subject of a Senate Intelligence Committee closed hearing on Nov. 15, with additional hearings to follow. Counterterrorism sources and internal emails reviewed by CBS News express frustration that key responders were ready to deploy, but were not called upon to help in the attack..." http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57544026/sources-key-task-force-not-convened-during-benghazi-consulate-attack/?pageNum=1&tag=page

Trumbull 5 years, 6 months ago

Heard on the news today that a timeline and more info has been released today. Will be interesting to see the response.

Liberty275 5 years, 6 months ago


Four Americans killed.

Current administration blames it on a video.

Current administration blames it on a video.

Current administration blames it on a video.

Current administration blames it on a video.

LJWorld commenters opined that speech should be further restricted.

Current administration admits it was a terrorist attack.

Four Americans are still dead.

msezdsit 5 years, 6 months ago


barak obama will be president for four more years. You guys keep playing your little games while the rest of us take care of business. Heres to laughing out loud at all you conspiracy nuts.

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