Obama’s Benghazi briefings under fire in quest for truth
OBAMA administration officials have given briefings about attacks on the US consulate in Libya last month at odds with the facts on the ground.
The briefings seem designed to counter leaks alleging missed warnings, withdrawal of staff and lack of security ahead of the attack in Benghazi in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three consulate staff died.
He was the first US ambassador killed in service since 1979 and the furore surrounding his death has sparked a foreign policy crisis being used by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to accuse president Barack Obama of incompetence ahead of next month’s election.
In briefings on Tuesday, two anonymous State Department officials said security staff had fought the attackers on 11 September, and only evacuated the complex after exhaustive efforts to find Mr Stevens, who died of smoke inhalation in the compound’s safe rooms.
However those making the briefings made basic mistakes. A former family home set among lawns and beanfields, the building is not, as claimed, 100 yards wide, but more like 200, and its perimeter wall was not heightened after staff moved in.
Accounts of firefights inside the compound seem contradicted by the evidence. The four compound buildings were gutted by fire, but there are only a handful of bullet marks and evidence of a single rocket detonating above the main door.
Also hard to square is the insistence that the safe rooms in which Mr Stevens died were comprehensively searched before the compound was abandoned. A visit by The Scotsman revealed the rooms are tiny, barely large enough for beds. If there were multiple searches, even allowing for smoke, it remains astonishing that staff did not stumble on him. Meanwhile, the leaks keep coming. The US media has said a 16-strong group of security specialists were withdrawn from Libya a month before the attack.
The House of Representatives committee investigating the attack, last week concluded: “The US mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi,” but “were denied these resources by officials in Washington.”
This was despite Benghazi being in the grip of a campaign of jihadist violence. In February, 200 UK and Commonwealth war graves were vandalised by extremists, filmed in the act. In April and May, bombs hit UN and Red Cross targets. In June a rocket wounded two bodyguards of UK ambassador Dominic Asquith. A crowd of 200 jihadists stormed the Tunisian consulate and burned the flag in protest at an exhibition of “un-Islamic” art later that month, and a bomb exploded outside the US consulate.
The British consulate, half a mile from America’s, is far better fortified, with 15ft-high walls, a watchtower and sand-bagged blast walls. Yet in June Britain abandoned it, and the Red Cross followed suit in August after another attack on its office.
Yet the US consulate remained in place, with security augmented by unarmed Libyan guards. Leaked cables now show leaders of militias being paid by the US to guard the consulate warned the Americans to be on alert at their compound as US backing of non-Islamist Mahmoud Jibril for prime minister could lead to violence.
Among issues likely to be probed in the US is the decision to use taxpayers’ money to buy security from Islamist militias.
Republicans continue to highlight the initial response of Mr Obama’s UN ambassador, Susan Rice, that the attack grew from a protest in Benghazi against an anti-Islamic video.
Since then, the administration has conceded there was no protest prior to the attack, something eyewitnesses said all along.
Libya says it has corralled the militia blamed for the attack in the Green Mountains, 150 miles east of Benghazi.
The Obama administration, however, has some explaining to do, and less than a month before the election to do it.
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