Nearly a year and a half after the 9/11 anniversary attacks on a U.S. temporary mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, the blame game is now focusing on the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
An addendum to a scathing report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Benghazi signed by six of seven Republicans on the committee singles out Dempsey for “failures in leadership.” Specifically, the six Republicans fault Dempsey for failing to have a plan to respond to an attack on Benghazi given the ample intelligence showing the desire of terrorists to attack Americans there, and for allowing General Carter Ham, who was the combatant commander for Africa Command, to not know the CIA maintained an annex in Benghazi near the U.S. temporary mission.
The Republicans slam Dempsey for failing to send more military support from the region as the attack was unfolding. “General Dempsey’s attempts to excuse inaction by claiming that forces were not deployed because they would not have gotten there in time does not pass the common sense test,” the senators write. “No one knew when the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi would end, or how aggressive the attacks would be.”
The focus on Dempsey is a new twist in the politics of Benghazi. To date, most Republican criticism has focused on President Obama and then secretary of State Hillary Clinton. House Republican investigators initially uncovered evidence that Clinton’s State Department refused requests from security officers in the field for more equipment and personnel.
The Senate report found that Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attacks, also declined an offer from Ham to extend the tour of a site security team composed of former special operations soldiers.
Colonel Edward Thomas, a spokesman for Dempsey, declined to respond specifically to the attacks from Republican lawmakers. In an email he said, “Our forces were ordered to respond upon notification of the attack. But the fact remains, as we have repeatedly indicated, that U.S. military forces could not have arrived in time to mount a rescue of those Americans who were killed and injured that night.”
The Senate committee’s full report does not single out Dempsey as harshly as the Republicans did. But it does find fault with the preparations for September 11, 2012 in Libya and the overall military posture on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. It points to a number of intelligence reports, including one from the joint chiefs of staff, that pointed to how terrorist groups were establishing a safe haven in eastern Libya and how al Qaeda operatives would likely link up with local jihadists. A State Department cable dated August 16, 2012, said a CIA officer briefed a special committee that evaluated threats “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi.”
Despite the deteriorating security in Benghazi, the report concludes that there were no military assets—beyond a surveillance drone and the CIA teams dispatched from the annex and Tripoli—that could have gotten to Benghazi in time to make a difference in the fighting. The report says the committee found no evidence the CIA team that saved all but two people at the U.S. mission on the evening of the attack was ordered to stand down.
The report quotes Major General Darryl Roberson, director of operations for the Joint Staff, that there were no aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean to support the deployment of fighter jets or other teams of special operators and Marines on training in Europe that evening.
“The Committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel, including in the [intelligence community] or [Department of Defense], prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the Committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated,” the report said.
In the broadest sense, preparations for the U.S. homeland and overseas facilities on September 11, 2012 were overseen and coordinated by John Brennan, who at the time was the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Currently Brennan is the director of the CIA.
A White House press release from September 10, 2012 says Brennan had “convened numerous meetings to review security measures” in preparation for the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
When asked about Brennan’s interagency planning in the run up to 9/11 in 2012, Dempsey said at the time that there were more urgent threats. “In this run-up for this conference call I mentioned that it was Tunisia, Sudan, and Egypt because those are the most credible threats, so these were the ones we addressed,” Dempsey said last year in a closed hearing before the House Armed Services Committee when asked about Brennan’s preparations. “And then we addressed, in general, our force posture both in the Gulf and in North Africa.”