Fifth in a series about Fox News’s Oct. 26 story on Benghazi.
Jennifer Griffin’s Fox News story of Oct. 26 carried explosive allegations. It charged that the CIA’s chain of command had instructed its personnel to “stand down,” instead of responding immediately, to a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. It also blamed the CIA for denying requests for military support.
Those charges have overshadowed a salacious detail in the Fox News story, one relating to the fog of the battle that night. As the piece outlines, the fight against the Libyan attackers shifted between the U.S. diplomatic installation, or “compound,” in Benghazi and a CIA annex about a mile away. When the folks at the annex got the call at 9:40 that night that the compound was in trouble, they went there to provide support. Later they returned to the annex.
After a long pause in the hostilities, a round of Libyan mortar fire targeted the annex, at around 5:15 a.m. Sept. 12. U.S. personnel took positions on the roof of the annex to engage the attackers. And here’s where Fox adds a novel twist to the picture:
[A]t least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA [annex]. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights.
A laser, huh?
The denials from the federal government on this one point have been particularly furious. An administration official noted to the Erik Wemple Blog, “This laser assertion, while certainly creative, is Tom Clancy-level fiction.” An intelligence official insists point-blank that the combatants did not “laser the mortars”.; another U.S. official denied the report.
The laser anecdote also takes some incoming fire from the timeline of Benghazi events provided yesterday by a U.S. intelligence official. Here’s a relevant excerpt: “The two security officers were killed when they took direct mortar fire as they engaged the enemy. That attack lasted only 11 minutes then also dissipated.”
Bolded text added to highlight a question: The mortar attack, according to the government, happened very quickly. Did the security officers really have time to laser the positions and engage in the back-and-forth alleged in the Fox story?
The alleged request for a Spectre gunship to assist in blowing away the Libyans also screams for a fact-check. This gunship, also known as the AC-130, is an asset of the U.S. Special Operations Command. It’s designed for deployment in “close air support” as well as “air interdiction (pre-planned air-to-ground strikes), armed reconnaissance and force protection,” according to a fact sheet.
The Air Force keeps its supply of AC-130s at bases in Florida and New Mexico. According to a Defense Department official — and this is critical to a vetting of the Fox story — AC-130s are most commonly dispatched in conjunction with “preplanned operations,” such as the war in Afghanistan. Even so, the plane can also take aim at “targets of opportunity,” in accordance with the Air Force Special Operations’ motto of “Any Place, Any Time, Any Where.” Deployments to sudden international hotspots? Not so common, says the official. “It’s not a 911 kind of force,” says the official.
The Fox report makes the case that military reinforcements could have arrived from U.S. assets in Italy. Here’s how the story raises that possibility: “The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive.”
Perhaps. However, no AC-130 Spectre gunships were coming from that Sicilian base that night. According to Kristen D. Duncan, a captain at the Air Force Special Operations Command, there were no AC-130s in Sigonella at the time of the Benghazi hostilities.
That a killer gunship could have suddenly materialized in the Benghazi sky in the wee hours of Sept. 12 isn’t an impossible scenario. It’s just a far-fetched one.
And it’s right here that we can definitively spot error in the Fox News report on Benghazi and the CIA. Though the United States possesses a professional military steeped in quick deployment and impeccable execution in dicey situations, it has yet to commandeer magic. An assumption of such capability informs the Fox story from start to finish — the idea that backup can just sprout from Libyan soil, the idea that lasers and AC-130s are going to team up against a flash mortar attack, the idea that if only brave leadership had been in place, the tragedy wouldn’t have occurred.
To propagate such an impression ill-serves the public, which benefits from a sane and realistic assessment of U.S. military capabilities.
The series so far: