Monday, July 29, 2013

Iran - Al Qaeda and Benghazi

Was Iran Behind the Benghazi Attack?
July 29, 2013  •  From

There is clear evidence that al Qaeda and Iran are working together, despite the war in Syria.


Was Iran involved in the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012? Too many would dismiss that question with a simple “no.” Benghazi was al Qaeda. It’s Sunni. They hate the Shiites in Iran.

The war in Syria seems to confirm this view. Al Qaeda sends its men and resources to support the rebels while Iran and Hezbollah prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But the truth is that the al Qaeda-Iranian relationship is much more complicated.

The Sunni-Shia divide is real and significant. But Iran and al Qaeda’s hatred for the West is even more powerful. Iran and al Qaeda have fallen out in the past. But they also have a proven record of working together.

Furthermore, al Qaeda is not a unified bloc, but rather a lose coalition of militants fighting under the same brand name. A local commander in North Africa doesn’t care who Iran’s fighting in Syria, providing he gets the weapons he wants.

Not only is it possible for Iran and al Qaeda to work together, but there is solid proof that it is happening right now, and even Benghazi is drawn into that relationship.

Reports from the U.S. Treasury Department expose a partnership between the two. In the summer of 2011, it announced that the United States had uncovered an al Qaeda network operating in Iran under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. “Iran is a critical transit point for funding to support al Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” it wrote.

“Al Qaeda’s core financial pipeline—which runs from Kuwait and Qatar, through Iran, to Pakistan—depends upon an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government to allow this network to operate within its borders,” wrote Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen, in written testimony in October 2011 (emphasis added throughout).

The next February, the Treasury reported that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security “has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports.” It said it had “also provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) … and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”

Then again in October 2012, Cohen unveiled new material that, he said, highlighted “Iran’s ongoing complicity in this network’s operation.” At this point, the Syrian conflict was well under way. Yet Iran and al Qaeda were still working together.

“Under the terms of the agreement between al Qaeda and Iran, al Qaeda must refrain from conducting any operations within Iranian territory and recruiting operatives inside Iran while keeping Iranian authorities informed of their activities,” wrote the Treasury Department. “In return, the government of Iran gave the Iran-based al Qaeda network freedom of operation and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families.”

And Benghazi? These kind of links can often take years to fully uncover. Last November, a Washington District Court heard that Iran trained the al Qaeda operatives responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya. Dr. Matthew Levit, an expert witness for the case on the state sponsorship of terrorism, said that “it would not have been possible for al Qaeda to a reasonable degree of certainty to have executed this type of a bombing attack, which it had never previously executed, without this type of training it received from Iran and Hezbollah.”

It took 13 years for Iran’s involvement in the Kenya bombings to become public. It may take time before all the facts are known, but already there’s some good evidence that Iran had a hand in the Benghazi attack.

In May, Egypt arrested three militants armed with 22 pounds of explosives and bomb-making equipment. Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told journalists that the group had received instructions from an al Qaeda leader called Dawoud al-Asadi.

According to Rewards for Justice, a website set up by the U.S. State Department, Dawoud al-Asadi is an alias for Muhsin al-Fadhli—the leader of al Qaeda in Iran. To cement the connection even further, Ibrahim said that one of the three terrorists had received military training in Iran.

Ibrahim said that Al-Asadi (aka al Fadhi) told the terrorists to get in touch with a group known as “the Nasr City Cell”—an Egyptian-based group that has since been rounded up, but has strong connections to al Qaeda and has been linked to the Benghazi attack. The cell’s leader, Muhammad Jamal al Kashef (aka Abu Ahmed) set up training camps in Libya and Egypt, founding the Jamal terrorist group. U.S. intelligence officials identified members of his network on the scene of the Benghazi attack.

In short, al Qaeda in Iran trained a terrorist agent, sent him to Egypt with two other operatives, and told him to get in contact with some of the key instigators of the Benghazi attack.

Al Qaeda in Iran was working with some of the planners of the Benghazi attack.
Under its agreement with Iran, al Qaeda also had to keep the Iranian government up to date with its activities.

Egypt is rapidly moving into the Iranian camp,” wrote Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry in August 2011. “That means Egypt, which borders Libya, will now help bring that nation into Iran’s terror network.”

Now we see evidence that Iran is spreading its terror network in Libya, via Egyptian terrorists—men who were locked up by former President Hosni Mubarak, but were freed in the revolution.

Did Iran merely know about the attack, or was it a key part in it? Just like the attack on the embassies in Kenya, the proof might not come out for another decade.
But in another part of Africa, there is, almost literally, a smoking gun. In September 2011, the Nigerien military captured weapons and ammunition from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It included ammunition that Conflict Arms Research identified as originating in Iran. Then in May 2012, it also intercepted a shipment of weapons containing Iranian-manufactured ammunition.

Also, in Somalia, Al Shabaab has strong links to Iran, and is also affiliated with al Qaeda.
Iran’s patronage of Al Shabaab’s predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), is clear. The United Nations monitoring group in Somalia discovered that Iran had flown it an aircraft full of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and grenade launchers, in July 2006. It also reported on arms from Iran sent by sea.

Around the same time, the ICU sent 720 of its best fighters to Lebanon, to fight alongside Hezbollah. Some of the fighters stayed in Lebanon after the fighting for advanced training. “In exchange for the contribution of the Somali military force, Hezbollah arranged for additional support to be given to ICU from the governments of Iran and Syria, which was subsequently provided,” said the report.

Since then, the ICU has changed its name to Al Shabaab, and become the official Somalia wing of al Qaeda. But Iran’s support has continued. In July, the UN monitors mention hundreds of illegal fishing vessels—mainly Iranian and Yemeni owned—that visited the waters around Somalia. They say that they “had received several unconfirmed reports that some of the illegal fishing vessels are also being used as cover for weapons smuggling.”

“While the Monitoring Group has been unable to verify any particular vessel that has been used for both illegal fishing and weapons smuggling, it has nonetheless established other connections between the illegal fishing networks and networks involved in the arms trade and connected to Al-Shabaab in northeastern Somalia,” they write.

They also reported that they have captured several “nearly new” Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launchers that “closely resemble Iranian-manufactured” launchers. The monitors are also investigating a ship seized in January in Yemen. It was packed with weapons and fuel, and the UN believes that some that could have been bound for Somalia.

On their own, each of these incidents of cooperation between al Qaeda and Iran would be interesting, though not conclusive. Together they paint a pattern of broad cooperation across Africa and the Middle East.

The two sides also share the same goals in the region. A recent study by RAND corporation by analyst Seth Jones concluded that al Qaeda groups “want to establish Islamic emirates in specific countries or regions, though they may be agnostic about a broader violent jihad.” That suits Iran, who wants to push against Europe across north Africa. Jones notes that Algeria, for example, is one of the main targets of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Iran too would be keen to see an Islamic regime take over one of Europe’s key resource hubs. “France, rather than the United States, is the most significant foreign enemy,” notes Jones.

Hezbollah and al Qaeda are undoubtedly the two most powerful terrorist groups in the world. By working together with Iran’s support, they have nation-destroying potential.
The Trumpet has long forecast that Iran would become a major power in northern Africa—specifically that it would get control of Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia. Its links with terrorist groups in the area are a major step in that direction. These terrorist groups may be Sunni, but they are still influenced by Iran and supported by Iran.

Mr. Flurry identified Iran as the “king of the south,” or the leader of Islamic terrorism, in the early ’90s. Since then it’s retained that top spot. For more information on the significance of Iran’s terror network, read our free booklet The King of the South. ▪

Libya In Turmoil

Libya Courthouses Attacked: Explosions Rock Benghazi
By ESAM MOHAMED 07/28/13 04:59 PM ET EDT AP

TRIPOLI, Libya — Two large explosions hit courthouses in the city of Benghazi late Sunday, leaving part of one of the buildings a pile of rubble, two security officials said.
An official in Benghazi said 10 people were wounded, two seriously, in the explosion outside one courthouse. Video posted by residents online showed several vehicles destroyed by that explosion. The video also showed residents standing in a crater in the ground outside the building.

Another courthouse in the eastern part of the city was also hit, said a security official in the capital, Tripoli.

The courthouse in the north of Benghazi was the site of the first protests against dictator Moammar Gadhafi in early 2011 that led to his ouster. It continues to be a hub for protests.

The explosion erupted just before a planned protest outside one of the buildings to mark the second anniversary of the death of Gen. Abdul Fattah Younis, a former Gadhafi security minister who defected from the regime to join the rebels fighting him. He was killed in July 2011 by his comrades while in custody after he was arrested on suspicion of treason.

Security officials said police are investigating if the explosions were the result of bombs. They spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to media.
The city of Benghazi was the birthplace of the country's uprising against Gadhafi's rule and is also Libya's second largest city.

Benghazi's security is among the most precarious in post-revolution Libya. Last year, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in the city.

Police there have also been involved in attacks and clashes last month between protesters and a government-aligned militia that left 31 people dead in the eastern city.
On Saturday, a prison break there set more than 1,000 inmates free. Inmates started a riot and set fires after security forces opened fire on three detainees who tried to escape on Saturday, a security official at al-Kweifiya prison said. Gunmen quickly arrived to the prison after news of the riot spread, opening fire with rifles outside in a bid to free their imprisoned relatives, a Benghazi-based security official said.

Those who escaped either faced or were convicted of serious charges, the prison official said. High-risk detainees charged or imprisoned for extremist ties had already been transferred to a more secure prison in the capital, Tripoli, before the prison break, the official said.

Special forces said they arrested 18 of the escapees, while some returned on their own, said Mohammed Hejazi, a government security official in Benghazi.

Shariah Law 101

(RNS) North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday (July 24) approved a bill to prohibit judges from considering “foreign laws” in their decisions, but nearly everyone agrees that “foreign laws” really means Shariah, or Islamic law.

North Carolina now joins six other states — Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to pass a “foreign laws” bill. A similar bill passed in Missouri, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, citing threats to international adoptions.

The bills all cite “foreign laws” because two federal courts have ruled that singling out Shariah — as Oklahoma voters originally did in 2010 — is unconstitutional.

So what’s the big deal with Shariah?

Many Americans think of Shariah as an Islamic legal system characterized by misogyny, intolerance, and harsh punishments. Some anti-Islamic activists warn that Muslims are trying to sneak Shariah into the American legal system in ways that do not reflect U.S. legal principles or beliefs.

Many Muslim Americans counter that Shariah is essential to belief, and that any harsh punishments or unconstitutional aspects associated with Islamic law have either been exaggerated, abrogated or are superseded by American law.

Muslims around the world have varying views about what Shariah entails, and its role in personal and public life. So what exactly is Shariah? Here are five facts that might help make sense of this complex and often misunderstood term.

1. What is Shariah?

Shariah is an Arabic word that literally means a path to be followed, and also commonly refers to a path to water. The term is broad, encompassing both a personal moral code and religious law.

There are two sources of Shariah: The Quran, which many Muslims consider to be the literal word of God; and the “Sunnah,” the divinely guided tradition of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

The interpretation of Shariah is called “fiqh,” or Islamic jurisprudence. Because fiqh is man-made, it can be changed; Shariah, for many Muslims, is divine and cannot be changed.

Some Muslims use the term Shariah to apply to both the injunctions in the Quran and Sunnah, and the interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah. Islamic law consists of Shariah and fiqh.

2. What does Shariah cover?

While often thought of as a legal system, Shariah covers personal and collective spheres of daily life, and has three components – belief, character, and actions. Only a small portion of the “action” component relates to law. In fact, only about 80 of the Quran’s 6,236 verses are about specific legal injunctions.

The “belief” component of Shariah commands Muslims to believe in God, the angels, prophets, revelation, and other metaphysical and physical aspects of the faith.
In terms of “character,” Shariah commands Muslims to strive for traits like humility and kindness, and to avoid traits such as lying and pride.

“Actions” include those relating to God, such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage, as well as actions relating to other humans, such as marriage, crime, and business.

Some actions relating to other humans can be regulated by the state, while actions relating to God (as well as belief and character) are between an individual and God.

Nevertheless, some Muslim-majority countries have criminalized violations of the belief, character, and action components of Shariah.

3. Who is qualified to issue rulings on Shariah?

Shariah was systematized between the eighth and 10th centuries, some 200 to 300 years after Muhammad received his first revelation. Many people believe that, by the end of the 10th century, the core components of Shariah had been exhaustively debated. That said, changes in Islamic society force scholars to look at Shariah anew, with new interpretations expressed in fatwas (religious edicts) and legal opinions.

Interpreting Shariah is done by jurists known as “fuqahaa” who look at the practicality of both time and place regarding how a ruling can be applied. In places where Shariah has official status, it is interpreted by judges known as “qadis.” Fiqh interpretations divide human behavior into five categories: obligatory, recommended, neutral, discouraged, and forbidden.

Over the centuries, Islamic legal analyses and opinions were compiled in books that judges used in deciding cases. Secular courts and Shariah courts coexisted in Islamic lands, with the Shariah courts often taking responsibility for family law matters. With the arrival of European colonization, many of these legal opinions were codified into civil law.

4. Where is Shariah the law of the land?

Professor Jan Michiel Otto of the Leiden University Law School in the Netherlands divides legal systems of Muslim countries into three categories: classical Shariah systems, secular systems, and mixed systems.

In countries with classical Shariah systems, Shariah has official status or a high degree of influence on the legal system, and covers family law, criminal law, and in some places, personal beliefs, including penalties for apostasy, blasphemy, and not praying. These countries include Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and certain regions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Mixed systems are the most common in Muslim-majority countries. Generally speaking, Shariah covers family law, while secular courts will cover everything else. Countries include: Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, and Syria.
In several Muslim-majority countries, Shariah plays no role: Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Albania, Kosovo, and Turkey.

Some countries have Islamic family law courts available for their Muslim minorities: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, India, Israel, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, there are no Islamic courts, but judges sometimes have to consider Islamic law in their decisions. For example, a judge may have to recognize the validity of an Islamic marriage contract from a Muslim country in order to grant a divorce in America.

Some Islamic scholars argue that true Islamic belief cannot be coerced by the state, and therefore belief in Shariah should only come from the individual and not be codified by the state.

5. Does Shariah really prescribe harsh punishments like stoning adulterers?

Yes, but many of these punishments have been taken out of context, abrogated, or require a near-impossible level of evidence to be carried out. For someone to be convicted of adultery, for example, there must be four witnesses to the act, which is rare. The Quran also prescribes amputating the hands of thieves, but (and this is often forgotten or unmentioned) not if the thief has repented.

Other Shariah scholars say such a punishment system can only be instituted in a society of high moral standards and where everyone’s needs are met (thereby obviating the urge to steal or commit other crimes). In such a society, the thinking goes, corporal punishments would be rarely needed.

That said, corporal punishments have been used by Islamic militant groups in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria, and governments in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Aceh state in Indonesia and elsewhere.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Aftermath of Benghazi

Aftermath of Benghazi: New details emerge of horrific attack that killed U.S. ambassador as support for Al-Qaeda grows in war-ravaged Libya

Eyewitnesses to aftermath of attack speak about death of Chris Stevens

He was killed by extremists linked to Al-Qaeda in September

Libyan Security forces struggle to cope with rise of terrorist organization

More grim details about the terrorist attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans has emerged as Libya admits it is struggling to combat a growing tide of extremism in the country.

Ten months after the deaths at the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi in the north African country, a frightening picture of the attack itself and the desperate security situation in Libya has emerged.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans - information management officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods - were killed in a six-hour, commando-style attack on the US Mission in the Libyan city on September 11, for which Al Qaeda in North Africa and Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia were implicated.
Mr Stevens died from asphyxiation caused by smoke inhalation after a fire raged out of control.

CNN camera crew, visiting Benghazi, has uncovered disquieting new insights into the event.
Correspondent Arwa Damon spoke to a man who filmed the unconscious ambassador being carried out of the compound by civilians, who took him to hospital.

He said: 'I thought it was a driver or a security guy. He had a pulse and his eyes were moving. His mouth was black from all the smoke.'

Damon also spoke to Dr Ziad Abu Zei, who battled to save the ambassador. He said: 'I began resuscitating him but after 45 minutes the patient gave no signs of life.'

The killings shocked the world and sparked a whirlwind of accusations that the Obama administration had ignored repeated warnings about security at the site, as well as raising concerns about the U.S. response response as the battle raged.

Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was the regional security officer in Libya, has since given testimony that he and the late ambassador had repeatedly asked to increase security at the embassy in the months leading up to the attack, but said that their pleas fell on deaf ears as the situation in the country deteriorated. The ambassador himself detailed 'never-ending security concerns' in an e-mail.

Veteran reporter Damon said: 'It's still stunning to see how little protection the compound had.'

The report also chronicled how support for Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaida is on the rise in Libya, as the country makes its first difficult steps after ousting the dictator Muammar Gaddafi after more than four decades under his heel.

One officer, speaking after a successful raid on a black market selling guns, drugs and alcohol, called on the government to give Libyan security forces, comprised of various fighting groups from the uprising, more support. 

But one official said progress is slow as the country makes its transition from authoritarian rule.

'We started from below zero, we are not starting from scratch,' he said. 'We're trying to build our own police and our own army, and things will take time.

'We have had 42 years of dictatorship, where people cannot raise their voice and they cannot express their opinions. You will find people with extreme ideas.'

Sunday, July 21, 2013

State Dept on UN Talking Points

Benghazi attack: US State Department pushed for changes in administration's talking points

MAY 10, 2013


FILE - This June 7, 2012 file photo shows U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice listening during a news conference at the UN. Senior State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya last September, expressing concerns that Congress might criticize the Obama administration for ignoring warnings of a growing threat in Benghazi. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

WASHINGTON - Senior U.S. State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya last September, with senior officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted, according to department emails.

The latest developments are certain to add fuel to the politically charged debate over the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans when insurgents struck the U.S. mission in two nighttime attacks.

Republicans have complained that in the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Obama administration was trying to conceal that the attack was the work of terrorists and not a protest over an anti-Islamic film that got out of hand. Such revelations just before the election perhaps could have undercut President Barack Obama's record on fighting terrorism, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, one of his re-election strengths.

Democrats have in turn accused Republicans of trying to capitalize on the attack to score political points. The White House has insisted that it made only a "stylistic" change to the intelligence agency talking points from which Rice suggested on five television talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.

"There's an ongoing effort to make something political out of this," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday of the disclosure of the emails, which the administration had provided to lawmakers. "The problem with that effort is that it's never been clear what it is they think they're accusing the administration of doing."

A scathing independent report in December found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department meant that security was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

The report largely absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen by many as the early Democratic favourite for president in 2016.

The State Department emails and other internal administration deliberations were summarized last month in an interim investigative report by Republicans on five House committees. New details about political concerns and the names of the administration officials who wrote the emails concerning the talking points emerged on Friday.

Before the presidential election, the administration said Rice's talking points were based on the best intelligence assessments available in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But the report and the new details Friday suggest a greater degree of White House and State Department involvement.

Following congressional briefings in the days after the attack, members of Congress asked the CIA for talking points to explain the assault, and the CIA under the direction of David Petraeus put together an assessment.

It said Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida took part in the attack, cited reports linking the attack to the group Ansar al-Sharia, mentioned the experience of Libyan fighters and referred to previous warnings of threats in Benghazi.

Numerous agencies had engaged in an email discussion about the talking points that would be provided to members of Congress and to Rice for their public comments. In one email, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland worried about the effect of openly discussing earlier warnings about the dangers of Islamic extremists in Benghazi.
Nuland's email said such revelations "could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to (central intelligence) agency warnings," according to a congressional official who reviewed the 100 pages of emails.

The final talking points that weekend reflected the work of several government agencies — CIA, FBI, State Department, the office of the Director of National Intelligence — apparently determined to cast themselves in the best light as the investigation was just getting underway.

The reference to al-Sharia was deleted, but Nuland wrote later that night, "these don't resolve all my issues and those of my building leadership, they are consulting with NSS," a reference to the National Security staff within the White House.

Senior administration officials met that Saturday morning to finalize the talking points. Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell worked with the officials to produce a final set of talking points that deleted mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya and Islamic extremists, according to the congressional official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the emails that still have not been released.

The next day, Sunday, Sept. 16, Rice appeared on the talk shows and said evidence gathered so far showed no indication of a premeditated or co-ordinated strike. She said the attack in Benghazi, powered by mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to be a copycat of demonstrations that had erupted hours earlier outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, spurred by accounts of a YouTube film attributed to a California man mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

"In fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video," she said. "People gathered outside the embassy, and then it grew very violent. Those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control."

Administration officials said Friday they deleted the references to terror groups because it was then unclear — and still is — who was responsible for the attack.
Rice's depiction of the chain of events contrasted with one offered by Libya's Interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, who said at the time there was no doubt the perpetrators had predetermined the date of the attack.

"It was planned, definitely. It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago," el-Megarif said. "And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata and AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2013

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.