After leading Benghazi probe, Roby says military was ‘woefully unprepared’
The Alabama lawmaker who has been leading a congressional probe into the 2012 terrorism against Americans in Benghazi, Libya, says she has determined that Department of Defense was “woefully unprepared” to respond to the attacks.
Over the last year, Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, has chaired a series of House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations closed-door hearings with top military and Pentagon officials to examine the military chain of command before, during and after the attacks.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the Benghazi attacks, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of September 11.
In an interview previewing her soon-to-be-released report on the briefings, Roby said she learned that the military had no realistic options to respond to the attacks. She also said there was a “breathtaking ...l ack of communication in the weeks and the months leading up to the attack” inside the government.
“This is factual information,” Roby said. “It’s not political. This is about where we were that night, what we had, why we were not able to do certain things.”
While Roby’s committee is still putting the finishes touches on its report detailing its investigation, the House Armed Services Committee has released hundreds of pages of declassified transcripts of the briefings. Many of the pages are redacted for national security reasons.
“A lot of that information is where you’ll find the classified, redacted portions specific to assets and where they are located,” Roby said.
Opening a hearing on May 21, Roby said, "Today's briefing will help to allow members to determine what, if any, part of the [Defense] Department's response to this attack was deficient and how such deficiencies might be corrected in light of the evolving security environment."
During that briefing, Garry Reid, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said “there were threat warnings across the board” on Sept. 11, 2012 but “there were no specific indications of an imminent attack on facilities in Benghazi.”
"The Department's response to the attacks was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time, given the speed of the attacks, for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” Reid told lawmakers.
Major General Darryl Roberson, the vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, echoed those sentiments.
"It is not like a fire station,” he said of the military. “We don't have assets to respond like a fire call, jump down the pole and respond for any American that is under fire anywhere in the world. That is not [the Department of Defense’s] role. Our role is to support the State Department, whose primary responsibility is for security of their mission.”
Gen. Carter Ham, head of the United States Africa Command at the time of attack, said at a Jun. 26 hearing that military officials were convinced early-on that the attacks were the result of pre-planned terrorism. The Obama administration initially argued the attacks were the result of a demonstration in response to an anti-Muslim video.
“It started to become clear pretty quickly that this was certainly a terrorist attack and not just not something sporadic,” Ham said.
On Sept. 12, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of potential future attacks: "Although we will never possess absolute certainty about threats to our embassies, we are better postured today than ever before to secure our nation's diplomatic missions."
The Benghazi blame game
Roby said it is her belief that the military did the best they could, considering the circumstances.
“The men and women that were on the ground that night did everything with what they had,” she said. “The problem was that they didn’t have what they needed. And that’s really the conclusion. I believe that the guys on the ground made the best decision with what they had.”
Roby said President Barack Obama deserves the blame for the military not having better options. “All things point back to the commander-in-chief,” she said.
Some Democrats were skeptical that the hearings would amount to anything. Florida Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in remarks at the beginning of the hearings that “it seems to me that it is just another redundant attempt to mine the Benghazi tragedy in a political way."
Buck McKeon, the California Republican who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, praised Roby’s hearings.
“I appreciate the thorough and professional investigation Martha conducted into the Benghazi terrorist attack,” McKeon said. “It wasn’t an easy job, but the work she did is a credit to her constituents, this Congress, and most importantly the men and women who struggled to respond that night even though they didn’t have the resources they needed.”
Roby, who left the Armed Services Committee in December after an appointment to the Appropriations Committee, said she is pleased with the outcome of the hearings but said she expects the committee to continue looking into the military’s response to the attacks.
“Civilian oversight of the military is a very, very important role of Congress,” she said.
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