U.S. special operations teams were told to stand down the night of the attack on the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic facility in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of 9-11, according to a new whistleblower who will testify this week before Congress.
Gregory Hicks, who was the top deputy to the slain U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, will say his in written testimony that a second team of special operations officers were told not to fly to Benghazi on the evening of the attack. That team was scheduled to depart on a C-130 airplane to Benghazi that eventually took flight at 6:00 am on the morning of September 12. Less than one hour earlier, a round of mortar fire killed two CIA contractors—Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods — standing guard at a CIA annex in Benghazi.
While a team of CIA contractors from Tripoli did arrive in Benghazi late in the evening of the attack, Hicks' testimony sheds new light on the military's response to the attack as it was taking place. The testimony from Hicks, who served as chief of mission for the U.S. embassy at Tripoli after Stevens was killed in the initial attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, contradicts what senior Obama administration officials told Congress in briefings last year.
“So Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, who is the SOCAFRICA commander, his team, you know, they were on their way to the vehicles to go to the airport to get on the C130 when he got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, you can't go now, you don't have authority to go now. And so they missed the flight,” Hicks said in written testimony given to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Hicks is scheduled to testify Wednesday before that committee, along with other witnesses who are expected to cast doubt on the administration’s narrative about the attack.
“I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.”
In his written testimony, Hicks – who was in Tripoli when the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was attacked – said he recalled that Gibson told him at the time: “I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.”
Hicks also pressed the embassy’s Defense, attaché Lt. Colonel Keith Phillips, to send F-15 fighter jets as well to Benghazi and to scramble those jets after the attack began, according to his written testiomny. But Hicks was told the closest jets were at Aviano Airbase, around three hours away, and that they did not have the refueled tankers to make the trip.
That account seems to contradict the briefings that senior administration officials gave to Congress in November, when they stated that the State Department had never requested air support or other military backup.
“I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split,” Hicks said. “They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.”
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House oversight subcommittee investigating the Benghazi attacks, told The Daily Beast in November that General Carter Ham, the outgoing U.S. commander of Africa Command, “told me directly that he had no directive to engage in the fight in Benghazi.”
Earlier sections of the Hicks testimony were shared Sunday on the CBS news program, “Face the Nation.” In that part of the written testimony, Hicks said he told Washington that evening that the attack on the Benghazi compound was a terrorist attack and that no one at the embassy believed it resulted from a spontaneous protest that evening. Top Obama administration officials, including U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, said in the days after the attack that it stemmed from a protest.
The Hicks testimony corresponds with a report released last month from House Republicans contending that the talking points used by Rice in the days after the attack were edited to remove any reference to al Qaeda or previous terrorist attacks on the Benghazi facility.