Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gen. Carter Ham and Col. George Bristol on Benghazi

Former general: Knew early that Benghazi was terrorist attack

July 20th, 2013 07:06 AM ET
By Elise Labott

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

The former head of U.S. forces in Africa said the September 11, 2012, attack on the American mission in Benghazi quickly appeared to be a terrorist attack and not a spontaneous protest.

It was clear "pretty quickly that this was not a demonstration. This was a violent attack," former Gen. Carter Ham told the Aspen Security Forum on Friday. Ham is the former chief of U.S. Africa Command, commonly known as AFRICOM.

Five days after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday news shows to say it was the result of a spontaneous demonstration, not a terrorist strike.
While the State Department has maintained that Rice's erroneous talking points were the result of getting and reacting to information in real time, critics accuse the Obama administration of orchestrating a politically motivated cover-up over a botched response, and continue to press for answers as to when the administration knew they were dealing with a terrorist attack.

When asked whether he specifically thought it was a terrorist attack, Ham said, "I don't know that that was my first reaction. But pretty quickly as we started to gain understanding within the hours after the initiation of the attack, yes. And at the command I don't think anyone thought differently."

Ham was in Washington for a meeting of all combat commanders when the attack was under way. Although a decision was made to send a drone from eastern Libya toward Benghazi, by the time it arrived above the facility, the attack on the mission was winding down.

Ham knew Ambassador Chris Stevens was missing and believed he could have possibly been kidnapped. Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack.

"In my mind, at that point we were no longer in a response to an attack. We were in a recovery and frankly, I thought, we were in a potential a hostage rescue situation," Ham said.

Ham said although he had authority to scramble a jet to the scene, he decided there was "not necessity and there was not a clear purpose in doing so."

"To do what?" he asked. "It was a very, very uncertain situation."

Ham said although U.S. officials were looking for indicators about a possible attack on US interests during the 9/11 anniversary, there was no information that an attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi was imminent.

"It was on it everyone's mind....we really were looking very hard," he said. "Did we miss something? Was there something in the intelligence that indicated that an attack on the U.S. special mission facility in Benghazi was being planned or was likely? If that intelligence exists, I don't know."

Ham said that he didn't think Stevens, who lived in Libya, would have traveled to Benghazi if he had information about a possible attack.

"If he felt there was a risk in Benghazi, I don't think only for himself, but he would not have put others at risk by going to Benghazi he felt was an increased likelihood of violence occurring in that place," Ham said. "I'm convinced that he didn't have any indications."

Ham said the fact there is not a stable government in Libya makes the country "a very significant threat," noting that al Qaeda has established itself in eastern and southwestern Libya. The United States, he said, is trying to strengthen the capacity of the Libyan authorities to deal with the threat.

Congress will hear from Africa special forces commander on Benghazi attack

The Washington Times
Friday, July 19, 2013

House Republicans will hear behind closed doors from a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was responsible for special forces in Africa on the night of last year’s deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in BenghaziLibya, despite what some GOP members are saying was an effort by the Pentagon to hide him.

Defense Department officials have previously told congressional investigators and the news media that Col. George Bristol cannot be compelled to testify because he is retired, but Marine Corps Times this week reported that he remains on active duty until the end of the month.

“There is every reason to expect that a briefing [with Col. Bristol] will take place in the near future,” Claude Chafin, the spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times Friday. “We are working out the details with the Department of Defense.”

He said the briefing would likely be in a classified setting. “Questioning our witnesses in a closed briefing allows members to receive information without worrying about the disclosure of classified material.”

“Col. Bristol will be available to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs very soon,” Air Force Maj. Robert A. Firman a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to The Times.

The report in Marine Corps Times earlier this week brought an angry reaction from several Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of seeking to whitewash their own culpability in underestimating the threat beforehand and misrepresenting the attack afterwards.

“If these reports are accurate, this would be a stunning revelation to any member of Congress … and also more importantly to the American people,” Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf told the House chamber Thursday.

He said it was another example of what he called “the administration’s efforts to silence those with knowledge of the Benghazi attack and [their] response.”

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Pentagon “has fully cooperated with congressional requests to understand the attack on the Benghazi compound in response.”

The official blamed inaccurate information given to Congress and the press on a bureaucratic snafu.

“The initial confusion on Col. Bristol’s retirement status was due to a military personnel administrative error, but that has now been rectified,” the official said.

The Republican chairmen of several congressional committees have run a number of highly aggressive investigations into the events of Sept. 11 last year, when dozens of heavily armed extremists overran the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, setting the building ablaze and killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department officer Sean Smith.

Several hours later, many of the same individuals, reinforced with mortars, also attacked a nearby CIA annex, killing security contractors and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

One reason that officials might be willing to see Col. Bristol testify to the armed service committee is to debunk more of the accusations that have been leveled at the administration.

Last month, Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson told the committee in a classified setting that no “stand-down” order was given that night, contrary to persistent allegations, according to a committee statement at the time.

Instead, after a rescue team had been dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi, the remaining three U.S. special forces personnel in the Libyan capital were ordered to remain there to secure embassy staff and protect or evacuate them in case of coordinated or copy cat attacks there.

One of those personnel, a trained medic, used his skills to “save the leg and probably the life” of a Benghazi attack survivor who had been evacuated to Tripoli, according to congressional testimony.

The lack of a U.S. military response to the assault has been a key point of contention for Republican lawmakers, and Col. Gibson’s revelations have helped blunt Republican efforts to paint the attack as an avoidable failure by the Obama administration and, in particular, by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, tipped as a likely Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.

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