Masked from public view, two of the U.S. military’s elite special operations commandos have been awarded medals for bravery for a mission that further undercuts the Obama administration’s original story about the Benghazi tragedy.
For months, administration officials have claimed no special operations forces were dispatched from outside Libya to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012, al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex because none was within range.
The Pentagon, under intense public criticism for not coming to the aid of besieged Americans, published an official timeline in November that carefully danced around the issue.
It said time and distance prevented any commandos outside Libya from reaching a CIA compound under attack. The timeline disclosed that a reinforcement flight 400 miles away in Tripoli contained two “DoD personnel” but did not describe who they were. Later, the official State Department report on Benghazi said they were “two U.S. military personnel” — but provided no other details. It made no mention of special operations forces.
But sources directly familiar with the attack tell The Washington Times that a unit of eight special operators — mostly Delta Force and Green Beret members — were in Tripoli the night of the attack, on a counterterrorism mission that involved capturing weapons and wanted terrorists from the streets and helping train Libyan forces.
When word of the Benghazi attack surfaced, two members of that military unit volunteered to be dispatched along with five private security contractors on a hastily arranged flight from Tripoli to rescue Americans in danger, the sources said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the special operations forces’ existence inside Libya was secret.
The two special operations forces arrived in time to engage in the final, ferocious firefight between the terrorists and Americans holed up in the CIA annex near the ill-fated diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the sources added.
The two special operators were awarded medals for valor for helping repel a complex attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens, another American diplomat and two former Navy SEALs, but spared many more potential casualties.
“Yes, we had special forces in Tripoli, and two in fact did volunteer and engaged heroically in the efforts to save Americans,” one source told The Times. “The others were asked to stay behind to help protect Tripoli in case there was a coordinated attack on our main embassy.
“The remaining [special operations forces] were ready to dispatch the next morning, but by that time American personnel had been evacuated to the airport, local militias had provided additional security and it was determined there was no need for them to be dispatched at that point,” the source added.
Pressed why the Pentagon and administration officials did not publicly acknowledge the special operations forces’ contribution that tragic night, the sources said officials decided that their anti-terror work inside Libya was sensitive and closely guarded. In addition, U.S. officials did not have a Status of Forces Agreement in place that would have authorized the troops’ presence, the sources said.
The history of the Benghazi attack is infamous in part for what the White House and Pentagon did not do: no warplanes and no rescue troops from outside Libya.
The revelation that some special operations forces did make it to Benghazi the night of the attack is the latest to undermine a carefully crafted story line put out by the president and his aides in the weeks leading into the 2012 election. The administration has since acknowledged that parts of that story line were misleading.
“On the one hand, it is an indictment of the lack of contingency planning by both CIA and DoD, especially given the rising threat profiles in Libya that were well understood — and appropriately reported back to D.C. by agency reps on the ground,” said retired Army Col. Ken Allard. “So why weren’t there more than just two Delta Force guys to send? Above all: Where were the air and naval resources that should have routinely been included in any contingency planning worthy of the name?”
The original account misled the public about the role of al Qaeda. The White House falsely asserted that the attacks arose from a spontaneous riot spurred by an anti-Islam video, when the intelligence community had evidence almost immediately that the assault was planned by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.