Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died during a seven-hour siege of the facility and a nearby annex by an Islamic militant group. Their deaths and a failure to respond by nearby U.S. forces have become an issue in the presidential campaign.
According to e-mails dispatched by U.S. officials in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies and the White House situation room were informed of the attacks no later than two hours after they began. Also, an overhead drone was beaming real-time video back to U.S. State Department officials.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey confirmed to media during a Thursday press conference that U.S. units were in the area and prepared to respond although no response was initiated or ordered. They also indicated that U.S. forces throughout the region were on heightened alert because of the 9/11 anniversary.
Panetta, in explaining the inaction, blamed incomplete information.
“You don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on,” Panetta is quoted in a Pentagon account of the press conference.
Panetta added that without real-time information, he, Dempsey and Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”
Although the White House had contrary information, Obama administration officials claimed for almost two weeks that the attacks were in response to an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. and were not premeditated. Data now shows the attack was deliberate and a militant group called Ansar al-Sharia has claimed credit.
Dempsey said both the Defense and State Departments were studying the incident to better understand what happened.
“Clearly, the American people deserve to understand what happened in Benghazi,” Dempsey is quoted in the Pentagon news release. “But it’s not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers.”