Saturday, October 27, 2012

Benghazi Scandal Getting Worse (Updated)

The reports coming out show that the Administration and senior military officials were well aware of the attack in Benghazi, including that it was by terrorists, even while the attacks were underway, yet did nothing. (CNN story about emails to the Administration) (CBS story about drones in the area)

The CBS story relates:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday defended the U.S. military response, saying the situation on the ground was too confusing.

"You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's on, without having some real time information about what's taking place," Panetta said.

He said senior officers, including Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. commander for Africa, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all opposed military intervention.

"General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation," Panetta said.

When asked whether they had forces on any heightened alert in that area because of the approaching 9/11 anniversary, Panetta said they did.

Gen. Dempsey added: "And let me point out, it was 9/11 everywhere in the world."
However, Fox News reported on Friday that CIA security personnel in the area were twice told to stand down, and denied military backup. The report states:
Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to "stand down," according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to "stand down."

Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The rescue team from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights.
This prompted a statement from the CIA that it (the CIA) had not told anyone present to stand down.

Significant here, though, was that there were two Predator drones in the area, "boots on the ground" including a CIA security officer with a laser target designator, and, at some point, a Spectre gunship. How much more intelligence and observation did they need? Not every mission can be like the raid on Bin Laden's compound where there are months to plan every little detail.

However, it appears that more may be about to become public. The White House Insider at the Ulsterman Report indicated yesterday (Friday, Oct. 26):
Got word an all-call went out at the WH A.M. today.

That means they are doing what’s called “huddling”. Has to be related to the Benghazi news now hitting. Have good source in Chicago saying their office is acting very odd today as well. Can’t say if this will break out all the way now, but we are getting very close to an all out WH red alert scenario. Not there yet but very close.

Significant activity from Ruemmler’s office over the last 24.

In this situation there will likely be 1 of 2 responses from WH.

-Highly controlled briefing response. Attempt explanation, then hope story gets buried over weekend and race to election day.

-Announced resignation of someone inside administration. President apologizes for mistakes by some in his administration. That deal could be under negotiation at this very moment.
(Kathryn Ruemmler is the White House legal counsel).

What could be going on? Well, it probably was that they had advance warning of the Fox News story, but might also have to do with an unsubstantiated report from Tiger Droppings:
The information I heard today [from a trusted military source] was that General Ham as head of Africom received the same e-mails the White House received requesting help/support as the attack was taking place. General Ham immediately had a rapid response unit ready and communicated to the Pentagon that he had a unit ready.

General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command.

The story continues that now General Rodiguez
[sic] would take General Ham's place as the head of Africon.
Tiger droppings then notes this story from Stars and Stripes reporting that:
President Barack Obama will nominate Army Gen. David Rodriguez to succeed Gen. Carter Ham as commander of U.S. Africa Command and Marine Lt. Gen. John Paxton to succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday.
Just saw this from Yahoo News:
The White House on Saturday flatly denied that President Barack Obama withheld requests for help from the besieged American compound in Benghazi, Libya, as it came under on attack by suspected terrorists on September 11th.

"Neither the president nor anyone in the White House denied any requests for assistance in Benghazi," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Yahoo News by email.
(Update): I decided to do a little more looking around about General Ham. Here were two articles that caught my attention:

First, this article from CNN on September 24, 2012, indicated that General Ham had warned three months earlier (i.e., in June 2012) about the growth of Al Qaeda in Libya:
Just three months ago, the four-star chief of the U.S. Africa Command warned of a growing threat from al Qaeda and other militant groups in Libya.

"There is a real concern in Libya. As Libya is coming out of the revolution and forming its new government, there very clearly are those who wish to undermine the formation of that government," said Gen. Carter Ham in a speech to senior military and civilian officials from Africa, Europe and the U.S.

"We see some worrying indicators that al Qaeda and others are seeking to establish a presence in Libya," Ham warned. Ham often worked closely with the late Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Ham has been trying to establish the initial stages of a military relationship with Libya, but the effort has been slowed by the presence and influence of armed militias, such as those suspected of being involved in the attack. Ham noted back in June the problem of bringing even more mainstream groups under the control of the central government.

. . . Ham has particularly made the case that al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb poses an increasing concern and that the group is operating unconstrained in a large portion of Mali and coordinating with other extremist elements across North Africa.
The second is from the September 19, 2012 New York Times:
Gen. David M. Rodriguez, a former top Army commander in Afghanistan, has been chosen by the Pentagon to take charge of the military’s Africa Command, which in the wake of the Arab Spring has become one of the Defense Department’s most challenging theaters of operation.

Under plans that still need formal approval from the White House and confirmation by the Senate, General Rodriguez, who is now head of the Army’s Forces Command, which trains and equips troops, would take over early next year from Gen. Carter Ham in what two American officials said was a routine change of command.
Ham had only been commanding AFCOM for about a year, which seems a pretty quick turnover. Interesting that only a week after the attacks, the decision was made to replace Ham.

(Second Update): Ace of Spades refutes that Gen. Ham was relieve of command.

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