On Thursday, while denying that a “stand-down order” was given to Special Forces members ready to help Americans who were under siege at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last September, one of the heads of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB) admitted that a “hold in place” order was in fact given.
Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the direction given to Special Operations Command Africa commander Lt. Col Gibson was to “hold in place” on the night of the attacks.
Gibson is the boss of Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya who had testified that a “stand down” order was given to Special Forces who wanted to help Americans who were under assault in Libya.
Mullen also said that U.S. aircraft were not at the ready while the attack was ongoing. He claimed there was a “physics problem” in addition to a “time and distance problem” that prevented the United States from providing immediate air cover.
During the Cold War we developed the Distant Early Warning (DEW) system to protect the United States and Canada from a Soviet nuclear attack. This consisted of a line of radar installations running north from the Aleutian Islands and then east across the Arctic Circle to Greenland. We also maintained a bunch of Air Force bases that kept fighter jets ready to “scramble” at a moments notice if an attack was detected.
After the Iranian Hostage Crisis and 9-11 we started keeping specialized units in a state of readiness all over the world in order to deal with different contingencies, including airplane hijackings and attacks on one of our embassies. While we don’t have any acknowledged military bases in North Africa, we do have bases in Spain, Italy and Turkey. I would be surprised if we didn’t keep at least one carrier group in the Mediterranean at all times as well.
I don’t know exactly what military forces we had ready and available to go to Benghazi on September 11, 2012, nor do I know exactly how long it would have taken them to arrive on the scene. What I do know is that none were sent.
There have been two explanations given for this failure to respond. The first is a lack of intelligence (as in information) and the other is that the nearest assets were too far away. Both explanations are bullshit.
If you dial 911 and then scream and hang-up, there will be police responding to your address even as the 911 operator tries to call you back. This is true even if you live out in the boonies 45 minutes away from the nearest patrol unit.
That’s because they have good reason to believe there is a problem, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. Maybe it is a prank. Maybe you fell down the stairs. Maybe you saw a mouse. Maybe a band of mutant rednecks wants to kill and eat you. All the cops know is you screamed and then hung up. So they send out one or more patrol units to check it out.
There are some rural areas of this country where emergency services can be an hour or more away. But you never hear the cops say “Well, we didn’t respond because by the time we got there they people would have been dead anyway.”
If the nearest help is six hours away and you do nothing, the nearest help is still gonna be six hours away. If you send help immediately and then five hours later you find out that the fighting is still going on, the nearest help is only one hour away.
During the earlier hearings on Benghazi the administration witnesses testified that there was no “stand down” order given. Now they admit that a “hold in place” order was given, as if there is a significant difference between the two terms. That’s splitting hairs. But it’s still vague as to who gave the order and why.