Tag: Libya

Khattalah Capture

One of the terrorists responsible for the attack on our embassy in Benghazi has been capture:

U.S. forces working with the FBI captured a key suspect in the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Libyan militia leader Ahmed abu Khattalah was captured over the weekend, officials said. It is the first arrest and detention by the United States in connection with the Benghazi attack.

Abu Khattalah will be brought to the United States to face charges “in the coming days,” said Edward Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Abu Khattalah, who faces three federal criminal charges, will be tried in U.S. courts, said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Only took 21 months. During that time, he was running around openly in Libya, giving media interviews. But I’m glad we finally have him.

More Benghazi Details; More Left-Wing Obfuscation

The New York Times has an in-depth report on the Benghazi incident from a reporter who went there and interviewed dozens of people on the ground. Quick summary:

Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.

The person they finger in the attack is Ahmed Abu Khattala and Ansar Al-Sharia. I would point out that, to many, distinguishing them from Al-Qaeda is academic. Ansar Al-Sharia are an Islamist organization that wants Sharia law implemented and are certainly on the same page as Al-Qaeda even if they are not technically affiliated. But the Times also shows that the US had ample signs that something very serious was about to go down in Libya and distinctly failed to account for it. The video was part of the motivation, but this appears to have mainly affected the timing of the attack. The Islamists were going to hit the US at some point.

As you might expect, the reaction to the Times piece is falling along partisan lines. Republicans are claiming it’s all a cover-up and the NYT is full of crap (although NYT’s reporting is based on far more witnesses (and fewer fraudulent ones) than the 60 Minutes report). Democrats are claiming vindication and that the Benghazi scandal is all a hoax. Ed Morrissey has a great take, pointing out that this confirms what Lee Stranahan has been saying for months.

In other words, the White House story that this was a demonstration that just got out of control was false. As we have discovered through Congressional testimony and the release of communications from that night, the White House and State Department knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack. If the YouTube video played a part in the motivation, it was nevertheless only possible because of a planned attack on an egregiously undefended facility, in the middle of a region controlled by Islamist militias, on the anniversary of 9/11 — when the US should have had its highest readiness.

In other words, this only addresses the relative import of the YouTube video, not any of the questions of the incompetence from State and the White House.

In short, we’re slowly converging on the reality somewhere between the two political poles.

  • Benghazi had become a hotbed of extremist activity and the US had ample reason to believe their personnel were in danger. Nevertheless, security was weak and heavily dependent on locals.
  • Ansar Al-Sharia, an organization not part of Al-Qaeda but sharing its goals, had planned to attack the US for a long time. The “Innocence of Muslims” video served as a spark, but an attack would have come at some point.
  • The first attack wound up with the security forces retreating and Stephens and Smith in a safe room. The attackers set the villa on fire and the smoke inhalation killed Smith and Stephens. The CIA response team arrived within 20 minutes. They rescued the security team and recovered Smith’s body. Stephens’ body was pulled out by sympathetic Libyans and not, contrary to initial reports, violated. It was taken to the hospital and then, eventually, to the airport where the Americans were secured.
  • A seven-man response team was quickly dispatched from Tripoli but ran into problems at the Benghazi airport. By that point, the Americans were in the CIA annex. The compound had come under sporadic initial attack, but this had stopped by the time the response team reached Benghazi airport.
  • About eight hours after the initial attack, shortly after the Tripoli team reached the CIA compound, it was attacked by mortar rounds which kill the two SEALS. The personnel were then evacuated to the airport and from there to Tripoli.
  • In short, both sides were full of it on some points. The Right Wing’s talking points that proved wrong: that Obama had real-time video of events, that the attack was continuous for eight hours, that no response was sent from Tripoli, that Stephens was raped or violated, that the video had nothing to do with what happened, that this was Al-Qaeda. The Left Wing’s talking points that proved wrong: that it was a spontaneous protest, that it was any kind of a protest, that all possible assets were used, that AQ-sympathizing elements had nothing to do with it, that his attack could not have been anticipated.

    In short, the Benghazi conspiracy theories are garbage (with the exception of speculation about the CIA’s presence) but the “there’s nothing to see here; move along” Left Wing knee-jerk defense is garbage too. We’re back to where we were on September 11, 2012: an incompetent State Department that left US personnel in a vulnerable position and then tried to pretend the awful events in Benghazi could not have been foreseen. By the time the attack happened, the die had been cast.

    Sorry, Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome sufferers. This is not a “vindication” of the President.

    Benghazi Report Withdrawn

    60 Minutes has now withdrawn the Benghazi report I blogged on after information came out that “Morgan Jones” gave conflicting statements about what happened that night.

    I must say that “Jones” crossed me as a bit unreliable, especially his story about fighting off a militant, which sounded like bullshit. However, his testimony was only part of what has been uncovered. The fact remains that many other witness support the contention that our security at Benghazi was inadequate in the face of clear warnings that something bad was going to happen.

    Still, I blogged on the broadcast; I’ll note the withdrawal.

    60 Minutes Discovers Benghazi

    Sixty minutes is about a year late and a billion dollars short on this, but you should watch this video that basically destroys the White House’s long-debunked contention that the Benghazi attack could not have been foreseen. Several witnesses have now gone public with what they saw in the months and weeks leading up to the attack that night. Al-Qaeda has stated their intention to launch three attacks and carried out two of them. Al-Qaeda had been openly flying black flags in Benghazi for months. And yet the security in Benghazi remained heavily dependent on local militia who basically fled when the attack occurred.

    What happened that night almost becomes secondary. By the time the attack had started, the die was cast. It was only because of the courage of the scant military forces there that it wasn’t even worse.

    We recently had the thirtieth anniversary of the Beirut barracks bombing, an incident that bears more than a passing resemblance to this one. Warnings were ignored, the approach was not barricaded and the guards were under restrictive ROE. The details that have emerged from Benghazi show that we learned nothing from that. Our State Department and our befuddled President still fail to realize that, in regions of the world where terrorists walk free, any American installation is seen as a big fat target.

    Every day in this country, our phone calls are tracked and some are listened to. Every day, people are groped and harassed in airports despite classified admissions that airplanes are not a particularly high-priority target right now. And yet, when the State Department was warned that Al-Qaeda operatives were openly licking their chops in Benghazi, when they asked twice for more security, the State Department decided that a few locals were security enough.

    The political aspects of this will be hashed out in the years ahead. This should permanently end Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, but that was also true six months ago. What I’m more interested in is whether anyone at State is going to learn the damned lesson and protect the assets that we necessarily place on the frontier between civilization and barbarism.

    The Usual Suspects

    This is a strange story:

    The U.S. has identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists, officials say. But there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

    The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. But the investigation has been slowed by the reduced U.S. intelligence presence in the region since the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks, and by the limited ability to assist by Libya’s post-revolutionary law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which are still in their infancy since the overthrow of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

    So … the President who had no problem droning an American citizen and his son is hesitating to pull the trigger on the guys who attacked Benghazi? I realize that diplomatic relations with the Libyan government are delicate, to say the least. But our relations will all Middle Eastern governments are delicate. It hasn’t stopped us getting our supposed man before.

    I’m also not clear what the point of the leak is. Are we supposed to say, “Oh, well they’re investigating. Let’s forget about the whole Benghazi thing?” The AP report indicates that pictures of the suspects were circulated a while ago and that they are in a remote region of Libya. But why would you leak this until you, you know, actually had something to report. Suspecting five guys of being behind the attacks means nothing. Dragging five guys into court or killing them would be news.

    Honestly, is anyone in charge down in Washington? Is there any coherence to your policies?

    (I’m having trouble keeping up with all the Obama screwups this week but will hopefully have something to say tomorrow about the AP wiretapping and Jeff Rosen stories.)

    The Continuing Benghazi Story

    It’s been an interesting week on Benghazi. You can read summaries over at Hot Air. I haven’t blogged much on it because actual fact — as opposed to innuendo or excuse-making — has been hard to come by. But a few things do seem clear:

    The Benghazi consulate was unprepared for what happened, despite indications that the situation was inflammable. This territory was pawed over extensively by the Accountability Review Board and resulted in some firings. But I don’t think the territory has been pawed over nearly enough or that accountability has gone high enough.

    There has also been some more talk about what wasn’t done on the night of the attack. Specifically, that F-16’s were not on standby and that a team of special ops people were not dispatched from Tripoli. Of course, it’s not clear what the F-16’s would have done — people keep forgetting that there was a many hours lull between the attack on the consulate that kiled Stephens and the pre-dawn attack on the safe house that killed the two formers SEALs. Nor is it clear that we had the ability to get them there in the six hours between the attack and the evacuation. And a rapid response team was dispatched from Tripoli and evacuated the survivors on the morning of 9/12. I take a lot of this military monday morning quarterbacking with a grain of salt. Much of what we’ve heard over the last seven months — such as the claim that Obama had real-time imaging of the area, that the rapid response team in Benghazi was told to stand down, that Stephens was raped and dragged through the streets — has turned out to be false. Other speculation on what might have been done has turned out to be impossible.

    The other revelation this week, from Gregory Hicks, is that the Obama Administration was determined to get control of the message very quickly. The talking points given to Susan Rice were politically vetted and State Department employees were told to stay on message about what happened that night. Hicks has claimed — under oath, not through wild claims by partisan lawyers — that he was retaliated against for speaking to a Congressional delegation and contradicting the early pravda from the White House. Further testimony indicates that contradicting the Libyan president on the nature of the attack created some diplomatic friction.

    (Later edit: Just to clarify something, Hicks testimony is that they knew this was a terrorist attack from the moment it happened.)

    So that’s where we are: incompetent planning and a bumbling political aftermath. To be frank, I find myself agreeing with James Joyner and Doug Mataconis that is looking less like the thing Obama will be impeached for and more like the routine incompetence we’ve come to expect from this Administration. The partisan line from the Democrats — that is is a “nothingburger” — seems a little ridiculous in light of the deaths of four Americans and the bizarre focus on message control the following week. But at the same time, the cries of “scandal!” seem overblown too. Marc Ambinder:

    One of the reasons why Americans aren’t outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that “Obama is evil” doesn’t cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately — and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting — prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is —well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.

    Furthermore, the Republicans were briefed early on Benghazi and told quite specifically that it was a terrorist attack. Obama’s “cover-up”, such as it was, lasted about four days and consisted mostly of Susan Rice on talk shows. My five year old did a better job of covering up the Great Spilled Milk in the Bathroom Incident.

    It seems to me that there are two real scandals here. The first and most important is the lack of preparation before the attack. It’s not like our embassies and consulates have never been targeted before. During the Bush Administration, they were hit over 50 times with over a dozen personel killed. Did it not occur to someone that a thinly-protected consulate in a volatile country might be worthy of a little more attention? Apparently not.

    The second scandal is the retaliation against whisteblowers in the State Department. One of the under-appreciated aspects of Obama’s presidency is his war on whistleblowers, his insistence that everyone be on message. This is the latest iteration of something that has been going on since he took office.

    Ultimately, however, I think the political upshot of this for the President will be minimal. People keep comparing this to Watergate, demonstrating quite effectively that they have no idea what Watergate was about. I realize that Republicans are clinging to the belief that Benghazi should have cost Obama the election. I know everyone’s been looking for the scandal that will bring down Obama. But this ain’t it.

    What it is about — or at least should be about — is negligence, ass-covering and retaliation inside the State Department. This is something the former Secretary of State and presumptive 2016 presidential nominee has to answer for. And, ultimately, I think she will.

    If something really damning comes out of this, I want to hear it. I’m very much in favor of more transparency. But the focus on Benghazi seems to have drifted from that and gone more toward getting Obama. It’s even gotten the point of making a martyr out a duplicitous felon. I don’t think that’s useful. What we already know happened was bad enough.

    Good and Bad from the Benghazi Hearing

    Well, we’re getting more and more info out of the Benghazi hearings. First, the bad. The testimony from Panetta yesterday indicated that, after being informed of the attack, Obama gave him and Dempsey full authority to do what what was necessary. And then … well, they did stuff, which I’ll get to in a moment. But the President didn’t call back or drop in or text or anything. I’m not going to suppose to the President should sit in the room for eight hours while little information is coming through. By the time they got any real-time information, the attack was over. But a little curiosity about the result of the attack would not have been amiss, no? Surely that should take precedent over calling some donors or whatever it was the President was doing in the next eight hours (information is that he called Israel on a routine diplomatic call).

    However, it does seem like Panetta and Dempsey moved fast to unscrew the pooch that had been so thoroughly shagged:

    In more than four hours of testimony, Panetta and Dempsey described a military faced with not a single attack over several hours, but two separate assaults six hours apart; little real-time intelligence data and units too far away to mobilize quickly. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attacks.

    Between midnight and 2 a.m. on the night of the attack, Panetta issued orders, telling two Marine anti-terrorism teams based in Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to Libya, and he ordered a team of special operations forces in Central Europe and another team of special operations forces in the U.S. to prepare to deploy to a staging base in Europe.

    The first of those U.S. military units did not actually arrive in the region until well after the attack was over and Americans had been flown out of the country. Just before 8 p.m., the special operations team landed at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. An hour later, the Marine team landed in Tripoli.

    Defense officials have repeatedly said that even if the military had been able to get units there a bit faster, there was no way they could have gotten there in time to make any difference in the deaths of the four Americans.

    So there was no delayed response. But there was a severe lack of resources available to a dangerous area. The real heroism and decisiveness was shown by the six-man rapid response team in Benghazi and the reinforcements from Tripoli who evacuated the area within twelve hours, savings the lives of at least two badly wounded people.

    Panetta is now laying out a much smarter strategy of staging small rapid-response teams in more areas that are potential danger points. But this is cold comfort to those who died because they hadn’t thought of that before.

    Hillary Testifies

    Well, the conspiracy theorists were wrong again. As predicted, Hillary Clinton did indeed testify to Congress yesterday. There was plenty of grand-standing on both sides and yet more irrelevant focus on what Susan Rice said after the incident. To me, the most important part was this:

    Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Clinton this afternoon why her office had not responded to a notification from Stevens about potential dangers in Libya.

    “Congressman, that cable did not come to my attention,” Clinton calmly told the House Foreign Affairs Committee hours after her Senate testimony this morning. “I’m not aware of anyone within my office, within the secretary’s office having seen that cable.”

    She added that “1.43 million cables come to my office. They’re all addressed to me.”

    No one expects Hillary to read all 1.43 million cables that come into her office. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the State Department as a body to have a good read on the situation at our embassies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that the State Department would know when one of its ambassadors is warning of a decaying security situation and in not unreasonable fear for his life. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to determine, as Rand Paul pointed out, which of those cables is unimportant and which of them is critical.

    You remember how, after 9/11, the Democrats went nuts about all the little memos that hinted at what was to come? At the time, I said that the problem was that our security infrastructure was being overwhelmed with information. They had so many memos and reports and analyses coming in, there was clearly no way to pick out the most important stuff from the noise. The recent report on Benghazi and Hillary’s testimony makes it clear that, eleven years later, we still don’t have a way to pick out the signal from the noise. We had an ambassador in a volatile country warning us that the security situation was bad. Surely, that should have been prioritized. Surely, of the 1.43 million cables Hillary received, someone could have narrowed it down to a few hundred of the most important and “we’re in danger” would be one of those?

    There’s no way to escape this being a failure of management, a failure to see a danger that loomed large in one of the most important regions of the world. No amount of excuse making about cables is going to change that.

    The Plot Thickens in Benghazi

    Hmmm:

    U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, provided reporters Thursday with the most detailed explanation yet of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi, Libya, and the agency’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, while also identifying the two former Navy SEALs killed that night as being employed by the CIA.

    But some news organizations, including the Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, already knew that the two former SEALs — Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — were working for the CIA and had agreed not to publish the information at the government’s request.

    While AP, the Times and the Post held back this detail following an official request, reporters at other news outlets may also have known or assumed the men were not security contractors given the nature of their work in Libya. ABC News, for example, reported that Doherty had been working to “round up dangerous weapons” in the country. One national security reporter told The Huffington Post that it was an “open secret” in national security circles that the former SEALs were working for the CIA.

    Apparently, only 7 of the 30 consulate employees were actually working for the State Department. All the rest were CIA. What precisely they were doing in Benghazi, whether this screwed with the chain of command, what role this played in the confusion in those critical seven hours — that has yet to be determined.

    The latest from David Ignatius also dispels a few rumors, claiming there was no “stand down” order, that the drone in question was an unarmed drone that was diverted to provide a view of events and also that fighting appeared to stop at 1 am. Then this:

    5:15 a.m.: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don’t know the weapons are in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are the mortars observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sights earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded.

    There are still some very big questions to answer, especially why security was not beefed up in the weeks before when it became clear the consulate was a danger point, why Stephens was put in a place that was mostly CIA with such a tiny State Department contingent and why military assets were not used to secure the area, even after the fighting stopped. (As far as I can tell, there is no current information on what our military assets were doing at the time.)

    It’s also becoming clear that a lot of our response depended on local cooperation from the Libyan government. This cooperation happened but was often delayed, confused or incompetent. In fact, there are indications that this may have been an inside job by some of those Libyan resources.

    So, yes, this dismisses some of the more egregious accusations. But we continue to circle back to the big question: why was a United States ambassador put in harm’s way without the kind of protection he would have in a peaceful country? And why were our military assets not deployed? Why did this remain a CIA op when it become obvious that they were in over their heads?

    The cooperation of the media in keeping the CIA’s presence (and, presumably, continued involvement) is a bit concerning. It might have clarified things a lot earlier. But I really don’t have a problem with it. I prefer that the press be discrete about some things. There’s no evidence that the CIA was torturing people or disappearing dissidents. Revealing their presence prematurely could only endanger our operations there.

    As I said on Twitter last night, we now have some answers to our questions. But we also have a lot more questions.

    Update: More from the LAT:

    Senior intelligence and Defense officials say there was some coverage by unarmed surveillance drones during part of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, but no feed was available for the president. The Special Operations team arrived on the Italian island of Sicily hours after the attack was over. And “no AC-130 was within a continent’s range of Benghazi,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

    That begs the question, of course: why weren’t they there?

    The Libya Fallout Continues

    To be honest? I almost find this reassuring:

    Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers. Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya.

    Nonetheless, it took until late last week for the White House and the administration to formally acknowledge that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack. On Sunday, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs explained the evolving narrative as a function of new information coming in quickly on the attacks. “We learned more information every single day about what happened,” Gibbs said on Fox News. “Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this faster than we do.”

    I would be more alarmed if this revealed that our intelligence agencies didn’t know it was a terrorist attack. The big question is why they lied to us. Maybe you could argue they were trying to maintain some uncertainty so they could catch these bastards. But … it wasn’t exactly a secret. The Libyan government knew and said so. The commentariat knew and said so. Somewhere, out in Mongolia, there’s a yak herder who has no internet who knew. So … who did they think they were fooling.

    Well, at least know they’re digging in and … oh, Christ:

    More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

    “They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

    Some of this was departmental infighting. And I suspect some of the delay is coming from the Libyan government. But still. When 9/11 went off, we had FBI agents interrogated AQ operatives within less than a day. There is no excuse for going two damned weeks before securing the site. None.