A retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general who was on duty in Germany during the deadly Benghazi terrorist attack told Congress today that commanders discussed “what we should do” as they waited for orders from the State Department to help the beleaguered Americans.
But the request for help never came from the State Department, Ret. USAF Brigadier Gen. Robert Lovell testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“There are accounts of time, space and capability, discussions of the question, ‘could we have gotten there in time to make a difference?’” Lovell testified. “The discussion is not could or could not of time, space and capability. The point is we should have tried.”
Lovell was on duty at AFRICOM headquarters in Germany during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The AFRICOM command was responsible for region that included Libya. The Pentagon take steps to move assets as the attack proceeded, but they were aimed for Tripoli, not Benghazi.
“We didn’t know how long this would last when we became aware of the distress, nor did we completely understand what we had in front of us, be it a kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement, or any or all of the above,” he added.
As the attack unfolded, Lovell, who was not in the chain of operational command, said command held discussions “that churned on about what we should do.”
“The predisposition to interagency influence had the military structure in the spirit of expeditionary government support waiting for a request for assistance from the State Department,” he said.
In one exchange, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, one of the committee’s foremost critics of the administration regarding Benghazi, asked Lovell why the military did not engage in the fight.
“We didn’t run to the sound of the guns,” Chaffetz, R-Utah, said. “We had Americans dying. We had dead people. We had wounded people and our military didn’t try to engage in that fight. Would you disagree with that?”
“Four individuals died,” Lovell answered. “We obviously did not respond in time to get there.”
Chaffetz followed up, asking whether anything else could have been done militarily to save lives.
“We may have been able to, but we’ll never know,” Lovell admitted.
Chaffetz then shot back, “Because we didn’t try.”
Still, Lovell confessed there was little the military could have done to save any lives due to its inadequate posture leading up to the attack.
“There might be some who, for various and sundry reasons, would like to distort your testimony and suggest that you’re testifying that we could have, should have done a lot more than we did because we had capabilities we simply didn’t utilize,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said. “That is not your testimony.”
“That is not my testimony,” Lovell testified. “No, sir.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top-ranked Democrat on the committee, pressed Lovell on the point.
“I’m afraid I just don’t understand why you are testifying here today under oath that the United States military did not try to help the night of the attacks,” Cummings said.
“What I’m speaking to is that, as a nation, we should try to do more,” Lovell said.
After the hearing, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said Lovell’s testimony “did not further the investigation or reveal anything new.”
“[Brigadier General] Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken,” McKeon, R-Calif., stated. “He was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night; wanting to respond but unable to do so.”
This week, a new email from National Security Council communications adviser Ben Rhodes surfaced which coached then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s round of interviews “to show that these protests were rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
The video Rhodes referenced was an anti-Muslim YouTube video that sparked widespread protests across the Muslim world.
The document also shows the White House advised Rice that the Benghazi attack was “spontaneously inspired” by protests at the U.S. embassy in Egypt that were motivated by an anti-Muslim video.
Lovell said that as intelligence was streaming into command, it became “quickly evident” to AFRICOM that terrorists, namely Ansar al-Sharia, were behind the attack.
“What we did know quite early on was that this was a hostile action,” he said. “This was no demonstration gone terribly awry.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi downplayed the emails and fresh testimony, telling reporters the GOP’s efforts to conduct oversight in regard to Benghazi are meant to distract Congress from a multitude of other pressing issues.
“Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren’t we talking about something else?” Pelosi, D-Calif., asked. “What I know of what I’ve read in the press about those emails was very consistent with what was put out there before. I don’t think there’s anything new there.”
“If you all want to sit around and talk about Benghazi, you can sit around and talk about Benghazi,” she added. “But the fact is, that’s a subterfuge that they don’t want to talk about — jobs, growth, immigration reform, voting rights, you name it.”