National Security & Defense

E-mail: Military Offered to Send Rescue Team to Benghazi During Attack

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered to send a military team to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya as it was being attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2012, a newly-released e-mail reveals.

“After consulting with General Dempsey, General Ham and the Joint Staff, we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi,” Jeremy Bash, Panetta’s chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail to Hillary Clinton’s senior aides that evening. “They are spinning up as we speak.”

The e-mail renews questions about why State Department and CIA employees in Benghazi were not rescued the night of the attack. And it contradicts later testimony by Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a Senate panel that it was impossible to deploy military assets to the city.

“Assuming Principals agree to deploy these elements, we will ask State to procure the approval from host nation,” Bash wrote in the message. “Please advise how you wish to convey that approval to us.”

#share#It’s not clear how Clinton’s team replied, but Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2013 that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, [and] events that moved very quickly on the ground” prevented him from sending a rescue team. Dempsey made a similar point in the same hearing. 

“This is the middle of the night now, these are not aircraft on strip alert,” he said. “They’re there as part of our commitment to NATO and Europe. And so, as we looked at the timeline, it was pretty clear that it would take up to 20 hours or so to get them there. . . . It was the wrong tool for the job.”

State Department whistleblower Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified that a rescue attempt could have prevented the deaths of Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two Americans killed at the CIA annex in Benghazi. The attack on the annex began several hours after an initial assault on the Benghazi mission that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and his colleague Sean Smith.

#related#“[The Libyans] are under no illusions that American and NATO airpower won that war for them,” Hicks told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “And so, in my personal opinion, a fast mover flying over Benghazi at some point, you know, as soon as possible might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night.”

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, obtained the e-mail as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. “The Obama administration and Clinton officials hid this compelling Benghazi e-mail for years,” Tom Fitton, the group’s president, said in a Tuesday statement. “The e-mail makes readily apparent that the military was prepared to launch immediate assistance that could have made a difference, at least at the CIA Annex. The fact that the Obama Administration withheld this e-mail for so long only worsens the scandal of Benghazi.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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