A day after the release of a new timeline of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the Pentagon has released new details about the military forces moved that night in case they were needed in the region.
The timeline released Thursday by a senior U.S. intelligence official revealed the major role that CIA security forces in Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya, played in responding to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman George Little provided new details of U.S. military movements made the night of the attack in case they were needed.
Little said that within a few hours of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered U.S. military forces to move to Sicily in preparation for an uncertain situation in Libya.
“This department took swift action,” said Little. “It did respond, the secretary ordered forces to move.
“We were prepared for a range of contingencies in the course of this very tragic incident,” said Little. “We were ready for the need to augment security measures at our facilities in Libya, if called upon. We were prepared for the possibility, for instance, of a hostage situation, as well. These were all the things that we were looking at for an event we did not know was going to happen in Benghazi that night. ”
According to Little, Panetta ordered forces to move towards the naval air station in Sigonella, Italy, after conferring with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command who was in Washington for regularly scheduled meetings.
Among the units ordered by Panetta on the night of the attack to Sicily, which is less than 500 miles from Libya,were two special operations teams that were moved to Sigonella.
As previously reported, one of the units came from a U.S. military base in “Central Europe.” And Little disclosed that Panetta also ordered another team from the United States to head to Sigonella. Little refused to describe what kind of unit was sent from the U.S., though it was presumably a special operations team trained for hostage rescues.
Little said both the units “did not arrive until after the entire sequence of events was complete. … They were in Sigonella many hours after the attacks.”
The Pentagon spokesman said that it can take hours for troops to be organized and transported to where they might be used. He added that at the time they were ordered to move, policy makers ”did not know when the attacks would end.” Little said that, in theory, a hostage situation in Benghazi could have lasted for days.
“We didn’t have forewarning of this tragic event in Benghazi,” Little said. “The entire U.S. government was starting from a cold start.”
Another new detail disclosed Friday was that Panetta ordered the deployment of not one, but two platoons of specially trained Marines to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya.
Based in Rota, Spain, the platoons headed to Sigonella for possible deployment to Libya. One platoon was dispatched on Sept. 12 to protect the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. The other platoon was to have gone to Benghazi to secure the consulate compound, but was never sent after it was determined that all U.S. personnel had been evacuated from Benghazi.
Little reaffirmed that no other American aircraft were involved over Libya the night of the attack beyond the unarmed surveillance drone that arrived 90 minutes into the attack. As for reports that an AC-130 gunship could have been dispatched over Libya at the time of the attack, Little was clear that “there was no AC-130 within a continent’s range of Benghazi” that night.