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HASC Releases Interim Report on Benghazi

I’ve essentially remained quiet on the events that transpired on Banghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012. This is based on two issues. First, very soon after the event, I was privy to information that has just recently come to light. Second, I didn’t have all of the information regarding this tragedy and I still don’t. On one hand, I didn’t want to disclose who may or may not have been on the battlespace that night and on the other, there’s nothing that will make you look more like a fool than making declarative statements about situations you don’t have the facts on. However, I now have the House Armed Services Committee report entitled, “Majority Interim Report: Benghazi Investigation Update.” I’d say that’s a good point to start talking, armed with, you know, “facts”. Having said that, two caveats with this report. From the summary, “This report should be considered one component of continuing comprehensive Benghazi-related oversight underway in the U.S. House of Representatives. In keeping with the committee’s jurisdiction, however, this document addresses only the activities and actions of personnel in DOD.” By no means is the info the final word, but it does begin to allow us to peer deeper into what happened from DoD’s perspective.

It was a sad day for America and we lost some great folks. Many want to lay blame, but blame isn’t going to bring those men back. Generally, it isn’t one thing that goes wrong, but a whole chain of events with several issues coalescing into disaster. As far as I can tell, I’m the only guy who wants to take a serious look at what happened, for the sake of making sure it doesn’t happen again. It seems that everyone else talking about this has some agenda.

Since that day, the event has been politicized and I have watched countless armchair generals talk about things they don’t understand; Internet experts fueled by propaganda and spin doctors. I hate to lay it on most of you, but your sister-in-law’s nephew’s best friend who is a Spec-4 truck driver stationed at Fort Polk is not an authoritative source on US force projection. I could spend hours and hours talking about the subject but sufficed to say, when attempting to project force to the location of Benghazi, Libya, the United States is a victim of the tyranny of distance. You’ll see this issue come up over and over in this report. What’s more, while it does happen on a case-by-case basis, QRFs do not sit on strip alert just waiting for a crisis, despite what you might see in the movies. Even if they had, they would have been quite some distance from Benghazi (see ‘tyranny of distance’), as you will see in the report. You’ll read about three different groups dispatched to the region in the wake of the attacks and some of the challenges they faced to get there. Additionally, we don’t commit forces to ‘suicide’ missions and rarely, if ever attempt forced entry without a clear operational picture of the situation. As you will find in the report, this was not the case. DoD did not enjoy a clear operational picture. This hindered the military’s ability to respond.

Despite this, they did take action. Several, in fact.

The first step DOD took upon learning of the attack involved a U.S. drone that was overflying Darnah, a city in northeastern Libya. AFRICOM’s operations officer immediately redirected the unarmed Predator to Benghazi, which was about an hour’s flight time away. Separately, following the meeting in the White House, Secretary Panetta (in consultation with General Ham, General Dempsey, and others) verbally authorized three specific actions. First, two Marine FAST platoons in Rota, Spain were ordered to prepare to deploy; one bound for Benghazi and one destined for Tripoli. Second, a special operations unit assigned to the European Command, known as a Commander’s In-Extremis Force (CIF), which was training in Croatia was ordered to move to a U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy and await further instructions. Third, a special operations unit in the United States was also dispatched to the region. These orders were issued approximately two to four hours after the initial attack on the Special Mission Compound.

Of particular interest to me is that there is no indication of a cabal within DoD set to destroy America from within or a decision by senior leaders to ‘let Americans die’. Rather, we see the same problems we constantly face; the fog of war and interagency stovepipes. We may have gone a long way to mitigate those issues within the CENTCOM AOR but in the other theaters they remain.

The findings are the most significant issue at hand. While not exhaustive, and omitting certain operational factors such as the units of assignment for those personnel actually on the ground, it is clear about DoD issues at hand that day and during the immediate aftermath. It also indicates which issues are the responsibility of both State and the White House. In fact, it discusses State’s request to reduce the Tripoli-based DoD Security Support Team from 16 to 4. However, please remember that Tripoli is over 600 miles by land from Benghazi (see tyranny of distance). It remains unclear if a larger force would have changed the outcome of the attack.


Findings

I. In assessing military posture in anticipation of the September 11 anniversary, White House officials failed to comprehend or ignored the dramatically deteriorating security situation in Libya and the growing threat to U.S. interests in the region. Official public statements seem to have exaggerated the extent and rigor of the security assessment conducted at the time.

II. U.S. personnel in Benghazi were woefully vulnerable in September 2012 because
a.) the administration did not direct a change in military force posture,
b.) there was no intelligence of a specific “imminent” threat in Libya, and
c.) the Department of State, which has primary responsibility for diplomatic security, favored a reduction of Department of Defense security personnel in Libya before the attack.

III. Defense Department officials believed nearly from the outset of violence in Benghazi that it was a terrorist attack rather than a protest gone awry, and the President subsequently permitted the military to respond with minimal direction.

IV. The U.S. military’s response to the Benghazi attack was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding. However, given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.

V. There was no “stand down” order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi. However, because official reviews after the attack were not sufficiently comprehensive, there was confusion about the roles and responsibilities of these individuals.

VI. The Department of Defense is working to correct many weaknesses revealed by the Benghazi attack, but the global security situation is still deteriorating and military resources continue to decline.

I know, I know, this is Soldier Systems Daily and I rarely comment on operational issues but this has been something I have been following for some time. As the old adage goes, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” It is my assertion that the events in Beghazi are just as much a function of logistics as they are bad, pre-crisis decision making. While Nathan Bedford Forrest (Lt Gen, CSA) was misquoted with “Git thar fustest with the most mostest,” the sentiment is apropos. That is certainly what transpired in this case. The bad guys got there first and were gone before we could project any serious combat power to the area.

Feel free to read the whole thing and then comment. All I ask is this, keep it on point. There are loads of websites out there where inappropriate and off topic comments are the norm. If you feel the need to express yourself that way, please go there.

HASC Report

(Click cover to view report)

48 Responses to “HASC Releases Interim Report on Benghazi”

  1. jimmy durble says:

    Erik Prince said in his new book civilian warriors, said that if Black water had been there protecting the embassy it wouldn’t have gone down like it had and I believe him with their track record

  2. jose gordon says:

    The issue here is listed in the very first thing you point out in the report. The fact that the attack began at 1537 EST, the NMCC and State Dep OpsCen recieved the first report of attack 5 minutes after that, and Penetta, Dempsey and Hamm opted to wait until the 1700 meeting at the White House to dicuss the situation with POTUS and his NSS – fully 75 minutes after the attack began. The SECDEF has a SCAMPI on his desk that goes to POTUS and connects directly with the NMF’s. Why wait until 1700 to discuss options? This the pattern of ineptitude that is under suspicion and never been investigated…simply…why wait 75 minutes? And, oh by the way, the Ambassadors PLB was activated within 7 minutes of the attack beginning…

    • SSD says:

      Those are all valid questions and based on this report we don’t know if they’ve been asked. There were several classified sessions leading up to the publishing of this interim majority report which was produced by the Republican representation on the HASC and is by no means the final answer as they point out. As to whether things happened by design or incompetence that is the real question. The Republicans have been very keen on pinning the tail on the donkey so I don’t believe they will leave any stones unturned. For once they have a motivation to actually dig into something; political expediency if nothing else. Investigations are ongoing and I think that what we’ve seen so far, the Operational and Tactical folks did what they were supposed to and that’s pretty important to me. I would suggest contacting the offices of those involved in this report with your concerns. They seem interested in ascertaining the truth.

      • Zulu6 says:

        I am sure SSD could verify that the President was CERTAINLY informed of the initial incident within 5 minutes through a special communications protocol with any number of follow-ups but its up to the SECDEF DNI, DCIA and NSC to fully brief him. Options in the Pentagon NMCC and what gets to the WH Situation room are two entirely different matters. 75 minutes in a crisis seem like a 10 minutes in a communications vacuum on the other side of the world. The principle reporting entities were engaged in contact and relaying through Tripoli and THEY were the QRF. Unfortunately they lost two men well after the initial loss of the Ambassador but Al Arabiya TV had almost faster reporting with video, which we don’t have. Tom Clancy does not write operational response plans nor could he or us bend space and time to help anyone. The Tyranny of Distance does not make the incident less reprehensible, but blaming the President personally and indulging in conspiracy theories only makes the truth harder to get. No President leaves our people hang, neither does the CJCS or all of the battle commanders. I was in Beirut in 83 and we lost 253 marines, sailors and soldiers less than 10 seconds. No one claimed the President did it himself. The truth is systems and plans failed. We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  3. Danke says:

    What a salesman!

  4. Invictus says:

    From what I understood, the DS request for fewer DoD personnel was one person, and did not mirror the sentiment of DS personnel on site tasked with security.

  5. Mark says:

    I’m with you on making declarations until the facts are known. But my big question has always been about the emphasis on some video which upset the people of the religion of the constantly upset, and the comments from SecState to the families at Dover AFB at the remains transfer ceremony.

    Why would she even say such a thing at such a time?

    • Zulu6 says:

      I was in the region and was due into Benghazi before the attack … then that video was released. Mission delayed because 17 American embassies went to alert, four embassies were mobbed or attacked over that stupid video. I watched four channels of Arab television SCREAM about that video for 24 hours almost non-stop. That video was the fire that lit the fuse. Maybe the terrorists were planning an attack anyway but sure as s**t that set them off as almost a billion other Muslims were pretty pissed off and griping to me about it like I sent that video out.

  6. Jbgleason says:

    As to whether things happened by design or incompetence that is the real question.

    After many years working for the GOV, I drew a firm opinion on this and I think Occam’s Razor is appropriate. When the GOV is involved you can always count on incompetence and career preservation over a conspiracy. I honestly think a lot of the decision makers were simply sitting around hoping someone else was going to make the first decision so if things went awry it wouldn’t be on them.

    • J Booth says:

      Your corollary to Occam’s Razor is the best theory of how government works and the way the federal bureaucracy currently operates today, that I have ever read. My only suggestion would be to place career preservation before incompetency. Bravo Zulu on your cogent insight.

    • NT says:

      Yes. This. It’s like Hanlon’s Razor, the career version.

    • Pete says:

      “When the GOV is involved you can always count on incompetence and career preservation over a conspiracy.”

      Preach on.

    • jrexilius says:

      Eric needs a like button on this, as most of us who have worked in the sector would agree whole heartedly: “When the GOV is involved you can always count on incompetence and career preservation over a conspiracy”

      • SSD says:

        I agree with it

        • Strike-Hold says:

          Amen! This is why conspiracy theorists always make me laugh – most of the time, the government couldn’t “organize a piss-up in a brewery” (as the Brits put it so perfectly). And if they usually seem to get caught if they try and attempt too (witness Snowden and Manning).

          And all that crap about that P.O.S. video? My own personal theory is that AQ were behind it – as an act of agit-prop – and that the White House fell for it hook-line-and-sinker and actually believed their own B.S. on it… But that’s just my cynical personal opinion…

          • JB Gleason says:

            Not to belabor the point but this is what I tell people when this subject comes up. No shit there I was…

            Sitting in a high-level policy meeting at the DoJ when the meeting went into the evening. It was declared that we would order pizza in and finish the meeting. I stared and shook my head as a dozen “decision makers’ argued and failed to reach a consensus on where to order from and what kind of pizza to get. These people, and not the arch conspiracists, are who run our government.

  7. Jumper says:

    I’m half way through the report and I cant stop thinking, that you don’t hold a meeting on 9/10 to assess your preparedness and any potential threats for the following day 9/11.

    This was obviously a failure of leadership at the most senior level within DoD, DoS, and the Executive branch.

  8. Terry says:

    I appreciate SSD posting this …and trying to keep the discussion away from the political theater / posturing and the wide eyed conspiracy junkies.

    I do know that during chaotic situations like Benghazi even the individuals on the ground never have “perfect” situational awareness and do the best they can with the part of the picture they do have.

    Likewise, operations centers in Africom, Eucom and the Pentagon are constrained by what they know and have to make reasonable decisions and act with imperfect information. They don’t have the benefit of hindsight at the time.

    In some cases, “incompetence” (real or perceived) may add sand to the gears. But chances are everyone acted with good faith and appropriately within that proverbial “fog of war”.

    This multi-agency business is never easy – even here in CONUS. But figuring out what happened (at all levels), sharing “lessons learned” across the interagency, and taking steps to limit the possibility of it happening again is what has value IMO.

  9. Eric B says:

    Well, paragraph VI is a frightening acknowledgement. Not surprising to many, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything so boldly in print from any GOV source. I imagine it might be ignored as a political jab.

  10. Weekly Reader says:

    Thanks for posting this. I remember seeing all of these people on facebook talking about SEALs coming to the rescue and using F/A-18′s on the Libyans to stop the attacks. Looks like that was all BS.

  11. Frank says:

    Although I appreciate your search for the truth you seem to be missing the lies of the Obama administration which were unbelievable and too often repeated to ignore. It never had anything to do with a shit video and when you lie from the outset it’s too late (for me anyways) to believe anything that’s being said from then on. Men died and they lied… and that ain’t no cute slogan, that’s what happened. It was all about politics, which you seem to ignore, from the first Administration presser.

    • SSD says:

      Who are you talking to? Or, are you doing exactly what I said not to do in the narrative of the post? The internet is awash with comments that don’t make sense, directed at people who aren’t there. This one is definitely bordering on the wth?

      • Debaser says:

        It’s no use, he’s already off to the next site to cut and paste his tinfoil hat talking points. Chances are he’ll never even see your rebuttal…

  12. jrexilius says:

    I very much agree with your approach and assessments and this was a good write up. I will say that from personal observation, at the working level, State seems acutely sensitive to anything that could lead to this happening again. It’s a pain in the ass when trying to get anything done in an imperfect and risky world. They were never brave and adventurous at the best of times..

  13. jose gordon says:

    I will say after reading this report, that the committee never asks the right questions. This report left me with an empty, unsatisfied feeling. Knowing what I know is difficult to balance against what is documented in this report. To me the issue revolves around the NCA and COCOM/TSOC. No one is asked incredibly basic questions about why the 2 most important Military advisors to the POTUS – CJS and SECDEF (half of the NCA) opted to wait 75 minutes before breifing the POTUS and his NSS. Then they give an additional 2-4 hours to declare an N-Hr for the NMF. Why this question is never asked by the committee members displays their own very amatuerish skills and lack of knowledge about how our NMF’s function. In fact, to me, the report implies our most seasoned, senior SOF Cdr’s and the U.S. Military in general are amatuers. This wasnt our first rodeo and proximity is not the reason no National or Theater SOF elements responded…however, becuase the committee didnt ask the right questions, they declared an absolutely propostorous conclusion…

    • SSD says:

      Seems to me that in my day a threat to a US Embassy or Ambassador had to be reported to the NCA (yes, that dates me) within 10 minutes.

      • Zulu6 says:

        Doesn’t have to be the death of the Ambassador, any attack on any US facility anywhere anytime of day outside of a theater of war. Initial report to POTUS within 5 minutes with a two minute follow up and then followed up in ten minute intervals or more.

  14. JOSHUA says:

    The fact is, no QRF was sent. It would be a different story if a QRF was deployed but wasn’t able to arrive in time.

    The story is like telling your wife you didn’t get her flowers for Valentines Day but that you did get a few quotes for bouquet delivery.

    Using the term “fog of war” is ridiculous. A bunch of E3′s could command 10X better than this.

    • SSD says:

      Son, there wasn’t a QRF to send in. The first letter means ‘Quick’. There’s nothing Quick about thousands of miles.

  15. jose gordon says:

    Exactley…whats more, an Ambassadors PLB activation puts the NMFs at immediate N hour. So my point is that SECDEF, CJS, NSS, SECSTATE and POTUSs explanation and this report doesn’t explain anything…it’s a woefully inadequete report written by amatuers regardless of party affiliation…

    • SSD says:

      Remember, this report is solely from the DoD standpoint. I don’t know if we’ll see a WH or DoS report.

  16. Jose G says:

    So they’ve created reports after reports, hearing and more hearings, when is someone going to put on their pants, admit that they stepped on their schlong and take the heat? I mean, everyone knows several agencies dropped the ball on this, we don’t need more reports on it. I mean what’s the worst they can do? Fire someone and not give them their pension?

    Amateur Hour at the WH, Pentagon, and DoS.

    • SSD says:

      You’ve been at this awhile. You want someone to assume responsibility?

      • Jose G says:

        I know they won’t. And if someone does it be the peon that they will sacrifice.. It’s just a shame there’s no integrity.. Operationally and tactically, things happened like they are supposed to.

        SHTF, WARNO got issued, and then the waiting games began.. Then you get deflect blame, point fingers, draw attention to a different direction, or just bring up some thing non related.. Wag the Dog 101..

  17. MED says:

    Notwithstanding your admonition in the original post, I find a clinical and technical assessment of what went wrong lacking without acknowledgement of the political. I agree with most of what has been discussed here. However, after it all went down, there were 2 weeks of BS carefully engineered and disseminated. That’s a significant part of the rub. It’s a glimpse of the influence and atmosphere that professionals had it work within.

  18. Mike Nomad says:

    Thanks for putting this up. Interesting enough read, but nothing really surprising. jbgleason’s sub-thread pretty much hits all the stops. It really is institutionalized behavior, not conspiracy.

    I see Benghazi as another point on the continuum of the Beirut Barracks Bombing in ’83. In the case of Beirut, there was a lot of blame directed at DoD for not standing guard with loaded weapons. What got very little play was that they did so because the Ambassador was given the authority to demand it.

    And I think that ghost may have been roaming the halls when the Benghazi report was written. One thing the report is made clear: The source / root cause for this particular Goat… Rope came from well outside the AO.

  19. Hats off to the two guys from my Alma Mater that stepped in to salvage the situation to the best of their ability – the information I have received indicates both should have gotten the Medal of Honor. Politics will eliminate that possibility under the current administration but in the future perhaps their DSC and Navy Cross will get upgraded.

  20. jose gordon says:

    We wont see a WH report and the ARB is States explanation, so the bottom line is that this DOD report by the HASC at the UNCLASS level is all that will be released. The classified ARB is interesting to say the least. In any event, our JCS AND SECDEF’s testimoney is suppose to speak for DOD. The sad truth is it doesn’t. We’re taught that we can trust our Sr Ldrs to do the right thing. Well, the fact is Panetta, Dempsey and Hamm failed us miserably. Their ineptitude has led to the impression that our National response is not capable – our Forces have been prepping for a situation like this for over 30 years. So nothing could be farther from the truth.The NMF and select SMU response was as advertised. However, Dempsey’s and Panetta’s testimoney doesn’t portray that. Instead, their testimoney displays a DOD response that because of “proximity” couldn’t exhibit the desired result. That’s how inept our current CJS and NCA is…they can’t even tell the truth…

  21. orly? says:

    Bravo sir

  22. ski says:

    I think the Benghazi Report cleared all this up a long time ago.

  23. jose gordon says:

    Huh??? What Benghazi report…and are you just being sarcastic???

  24. ski says:

    The one Sofrep did -way back. It will bring more clarity.

  25. jose gordon says:

    The one Brandon Webb wrote??? Please…thats an incredibly innacurate attempt which did nothing more than cloud the issue.

  26. ski says:

    Yes. There was only one. What was inaccurate about it? Inform me…

  27. jose gordon says:

    The pretense and the overall theme of the book itself is completely inaccurate – the book states that the attack was as a result of US operations in the region. How cloudy is that…more over what does that matter? Why the attack happened is less important than why the NCA didn’t respond…thats why it clouds the issue… It suffices that the attacks WERE NOT because of an anti-islamic video, so therefore, why the attack happened is less important than why the NCA didnt commit to a National response…if this is truly a scandal, then the issue is leader is incompetence or leaders covering something up…NOT WHY the attack occurred…