Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is mad about Benghazi. In an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night, Chaffetz called “sickening and depressing and disgusting” the whistleblowing testimony of the State Department’s Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya last September, when a U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi sustained a terrorist attack.
As discussed here, Hicks told investigators from the House oversight and government reform committee on April 11 that a crew of Special Forces were told not to make the trip from Tripoli to Benghazi to support embattled personnel there. A C-30 aircraft left Tripoli without them at around 6:00 a.m. local time on the day following the initial Benghazi attack — too late to have provided any combat support.
Here’s how Hannity and Chaffetz broke things down:
HANNITY: All right. And Congressman Chaffetz, there was — we now have discovered through testimony, Greg Hicks among others that there was a C-130 ready to bring reinforcements during the attack to help those that were under fire and they were ordered to stand down?
CHAFFETZ: The administration including Secretary Panetta were very crystal clear, there were no military assets, but I got to tell you, we had proximity, we had capability, we had four individuals in Libya armed, ready to go, dressed about to get into the car to go in the airport to go help their fellow countrymen who were dying and being killed and under attack in Benghazi and they were told to stand down.
And Sean, of all the things I’ve seen, that’s as sickening and depressing and disgusting as anything I have seen. That is not the American way. We had people that were getting killed, we had people who are willing to risk their lives to go save them and somebody told them to stand down.
HANNITY: But we confirmed, that C-130 was on the tarmac, we had people ready to on the plane willing to say that?
CHAFFETZ: It left without them.
HANNITY: Who gave the order?
CHAFFETZ: Well, that’s what we got to still get some more information about. I think, this is what we anticipate on Wednesday at the hearing. We’re going to have people who were on the ground there in Libya that will talk directly to this.
Various outlets have covered this revelation from Hicks, as well they should. If military assets were available yet not activated, why do we have them?
Yet coverage of the Hicks testimony at this point lacks some crucial context. Behind every decision not to send assets to some hot spot lies a rationale, one that we haven’t heard yet in the case of the Special Forces and the C-130.
Here’s one question: Would sending those additional forces have left the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli unduly exposed? As Hicks testified, the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya were already “stripped” of security presence. According to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on Benghazi, two security officers from Tripoli were already with Ambassador Chris Stevens when he arrived for his Benghazi visit. So Tripoli is already minus two on the security front.
More subtraction: A crew of seven security officials posted in Tripoli took a chartered jet to Benghazi shortly after the initial attack that night.
Who would have been left behind in Tripoli?
An Oct. 10 hearing of the House oversight and government reform committee (which is also hosting the whistleblowers tomorrow) dug into questions of security staffing in U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya. Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who reported having served 24 years as a Special Forces soldier, testified that he’d commanded a 16-member security team — known as an “SST” — to support State Department installations in Libya.
That particular force, agreed officials at the hearing, provided a valuable deterrent role in Tripoli. Said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy:
“The SST was great. We really appreciated the assistance they were providing. They provided some airport analysis (inaudible) the airport was finished. They provided medical capability. The State Department replaced it with its own medical capability. They provided communications capability. We replaced that with the State Department communications capability. And then they also provided direct security assistance personnel, wonderful colleagues from — from that unit. We were also, though, replacing them, as we do all over the world, by building an inherent State Department capability.”
Another State official said: “In Tripoli, where we had the SST, I was never concerned that we would be able to repel any sort of assault there, with the 16 and the additional [State Department diplomatic security] agents.”
What was the status of this group on Sept. 11, 2012? How did it relate to State Department security personnel? To CIA security contractors? Inquiries to the Defense Department and to the State Department on these questions didn’t fetch immediate responses. Both agencies are reportedly working on a response to the Hicks allegations. We’ll update when we have something.