Pentagon releases Benghazi timeline, defends response

Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:12am EST
 
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By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon leaders knew of the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi an hour after it began, but were unable to mobilize reinforcements based in Europe in time to prevent the death of the U.S. ambassador, according to a timeline released on Friday.

Senior defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected criticism accusing the Pentagon of failing to move quickly to send reinforcements to relieve the consulate or using armed aerial drones to fire on the attackers.

"The Department of Defense acted quickly after learning of the incidents unfolding in Benghazi," said one official, adding that Marines, special forces and other military assets had either been employed or put in motion during the attack.

"Unfortunately, no alternative or additional aircraft options were available within a timeline to be effective," the official added.

The Obama administration's response to the attack became a highly charged political issue in the last weeks of the presidential campaign. The CIA, which had a base near the consulate, and the State Department have released timelines on the incident.

According to the Pentagon's timeline, the military's Africa Command, based in Europe, ordered an unmanned, unarmed surveillance drone diverted to the city in eastern Libya just 17 minutes after the attack on the consulate began about 9:42 p.m. local time (3:42 p.m. EDT), the first military action in response to the incident. It took the drone more than an hour to arrive at the scene.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's office was notified of the attack 50 minutes after it began, and Panetta learned of it shortly thereafter as he and the military's top general headed to a previously scheduled meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.

Obama, Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed potential responses to the unfolding events in Benghazi during their meeting, which began 78 minutes after the start of the Libya attack, according to the timeline.   Continued...

 
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori