The Pentagon says it’s now equipped to launch the type of rescue mission that could have helped American personnel who came under deadly attack at the temporary diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
U.S. Africa Command has positioned a 500-strong Marine task force in Moron, Spain and equipped with Osprey aircraft capable of vertical landing along with KC-130 mid-air refueling tankers, said Defense Department spokesman Maj. Robert A. Firman.
“Their whole reason for being is crisis response in Africa,” Maj. Firman said, adding that Africom also now had its own Commander's In-extremis Force — a small commando of special forces personnel prepared to deploy at short notice.
Their exact response time is classified, he said, but “They are ready to go.”
A House hearing Wednesday will hear testimony about why the U.S. military was not prepared to protect the American diplomats and workers attacked by terrorists last year in Benghazi.
Gregory N. Hicks, a career diplomat who became chief of mission in Libya when the attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel, has told investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the U.S. military had no assets ready to respond immediately to the attack.
According to transcript excerpts of his interviewers released by congressional staff, Mr. Hicks said that four U.S. special operations troops in Tripoli were told not to get on a plane to Benghazi the morning after the attack.
That incident is apparently the source of the notorious “stand down” allegation, charging that Obama administration officials ordered military forces not to go to the rescue.
But Mr. Hicks acknowledged that even the second phase of the attack was over before the plane, provided by the Libyan military, took off after 6 AM on Sept. 12.
“No U.S. government element refused or denied requests for emergency assistance during the crisis,” says an interim report from House investigative staff.
Mr. Hicks‘ account confirms the findings of the State Department-chartered investigations called an Accountability Review Board, that no U.S. military assets were close enough to respond to the attacks in Benghazi. He told investigators there was no air-to-air refueling available to get F15s at Aviano U.S. Air Force Base in Italy to Benghazi and back.
But that conclusion also raises harder questions about why the Department of Defense was not prepared to launch a no-notice rescue mission in Africa, despite the presence of U.S. diplomatic facilities in countries like Libya, Mali and the Central African republic which were known last year to be highly unstable and to have military forces that might not be able to defend U.S. diplomats.