Members of the Libyan army's special forces take cover as a tank fires towards Islamist militants during clashes in the militants' last stronghold in Benghazi. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
In the months following Gaddafi’s death there were intelligence reports of steadily increasing instability and danger to American personnel in Libya, but no significant steps were taken to improve security.
On 11 September there was a co-ordinated attack against two separate US government “consulate” facilities in Benghazi by fighters of the Islamic militant group called Ansar al-Sharia.
It has been reported by a number of unsubstantiated sources that the diplomatic presence in Libya was a sham with no real political role to play. Its real function was as CIA cover to smuggle sophisticated Gaddafi-regime weapons to the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, where another “Arab Spring” uprising had also kicked off (as today we know all too well).
An American diplomatic compound was attacked at 2140 hrs by rioters with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, supported by 14.5mm AA guns and mortars. During the assault US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service information manager Sean Smith were killed.
In the early hours of the next morning, the terrorists opened up with a mortar attack on a CIA annex a mile away which killed two CIA contractors and wounded ten others. Although the attacks were initially described as “spontaneous” by the US administration, subsequent investigations suggested that the attacks were premeditated, although looters and opportunists may have also taken part.
Before his death Ambassador Stevens tried three times before getting through to Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Hicks in Tripoli to warn they were under attack. Hicks immediately notified all US agencies and prepared for immediate initiation of a pre-existing Emergency Response Plan.
At AFRICON, General Carter Ham attempted to mount a rescue operation, but was ordered to “stand down.” This is critical, as by 2230 hours an unarmed drone had been deployed and was above the seized compound and streaming live feed to all Command and Control agencies, so everyone in the US Administration knew what was happening as it happened.
Much has been made by many – including testimony of three “whistle-blowers” – of the fact that no effort was made by American air assets to save the situation, abandoning the US ambassador and later the brave ex-SEALs who fought to their deaths.
The US Obama Administration claims “there were simply no military assets that could be brought to bear in time to make a difference”, mainly due to the unavailability of tanker support for fighter aircraft. But, according to retired air ace Colonel Phil “Hands” Handley, that simply isn’t true. Handley insists that two squadrons of F16Cs were in readiness just across the Mediterranean at the Aviano Air Base in Italy. He has explained in great technical detail how when AFRICON alerted the 31st TFW Command Post there, the Wing Commander could have ordered the launch of two F16s and advised the Command Post at NAS Sigonella to prepare for hot pit refuelling and quick turn-round of the jets.
Leaving Sigonella around 0110 hours with full fuel, those aircraft would have covered the 377 miles to Benghazi by 0150 hours. Time enough, Handley claims, to strafe and break up the mobs before their second attack.
Why didn’t that happen? Some believe that some of the recently-disclosed Wikileak emails hold the answer.
They suggest that Ambassador Stevens was actually sent to the Benghazi consulate on an urgent mission to retrieve American-made Stinger surface-to-air missiles that had been secretly supplied to Ansar al Sharia without Congressional permission or oversight. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had brokered the deal previously through Stevens and a private arms dealer.
Some of those shoulder-fired Stingers had emerged in Afghanistan and had been used to bring down an American Chinook helicopter the previous July. Luckily the missile hadn’t been properly armed so the target was not destroyed, but still had to land.
Subsequently the missile serial number was traced to a batch supposedly stored in Qatar by the CIA. It is assumed that is when President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton panicked and ordered Ambassador Stevens to rush to Benghazi and negotiate the return of the Stingers.
It was a desperate mission that would explain the seemingly inexplicable “stand down” rescue order given to USAF and multiple commando teams that would have been put on standby.
Apparently it was Clinton’s State Department – not the CIA – that authorised the transfer of some Stingers to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is generally recognised that General Petraeus would never, ever have risked their possible use against commercial aircraft.
In fact, it was when Petraeus point blank refused to testify that the Benghazi killings were the result of a “spontaneous uprising” of Libyan locals over a YouTube video, that the President threw the general “under a bus.”
It appears that the Taliban enemy in Afghanistan was aware that the Administration had aided and abetted their own enemy without Congressional approval and began pushing for the release of five Taliban generals in return for their silence. What bizarre deal made the State Department think it was smart to provide the Taliban covertly with Stingers is not yet established.
But it may explain the reluctance to launch a Benghazi rescue mission in Libya and have to answer questions if US Air Force fighters had been shot down by Stingers provided by Clinton’s own State Department.