Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee largely exonerated the U.S. military from responsibility for failures associated with the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, instead blaming the White House and the State Department for ignoring heightened threats in the area.
The committee majority’s conclusions, in a report released Tuesday, do not differ significantly from those reached by other congressional panels that have touched on the military’s role in the Benghazi incident.
While the GOP lawmakers said that commanders could have pushed harder to position forces to respond to threats in North Africa in general and Libya in particular, they concluded that no U.S. military assets could have arrived in Benghazi in time to affect the outcome of the attacks, according to committee staff members who briefed reporters on the report.
“Armed drones and AC-130” gunships “weren’t within reasonable flying distance,” said one staffer, who like the other staff members spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of the report’s release. Italy-based F-16 aircraft were not on alert status, and “it is not at all certain that they would have been particularly helpful in this instance.”
The report is one of several released in recent months by the Republican-led House, which has continued to criticize the Obama administration for what some lawmakers have called a cover-up in the Sept. 11-12, 2012, Benghazi attacks, in which four Americans were killed, including J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Democrats have accused the Republicans of overkill, and two Democrats on the Armed Services Committee said Monday that “this Republican-prepared report clearly states that the Department of Defense responded appropriately, quickly, to the best of its ability” to the attack.
“For more than a year, we have watched Republicans desperately and obsessively search for a scandal, which has not appeared. It is time to move forward,” Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the committee’s senior Democrat, and Rep. Niki Tsongas (Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the committee’s oversight and investigations panel, said in a statement.
Last month, the Democratic-led Senate Intelligence Committee faulted the State Department and the intelligence community for failing to increase security at the poorly protected temporary diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and a nearby CIA compound.
The Senate report also blamed the CIA, as did the House Armed Services Committee, for failing to communicate effectively with the Defense Department, where senior officials were unaware of the intelligence annex, which also came under attack early Sept. 12 and where two of the four Americans were killed.
Overall, the Armed Services Committee’s conclusions, following nearly a year of investigation and both open and classified hearings, differ little from an interim report released in April by House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) for the Republican majority.
While the findings are consistent, the House panel was able to “go much further down the road of assessing hypotheticals” regarding the Defense Department’s role, a staffer said. The report found that there had been no order given to a six-man military group based in Tripoli to “stand down” rather than rush to Benghazi, but rather that the majority of the group was ordered to stay in the Libyan capital to combat possible threats there.
Among the report’s top conclusions are that the White House “either failed to comprehend the situation in Libya,” despite intelligence warnings, or “ignored the dramatically deteriorating security situation there” and did not instruct the military to change its deployment and readiness.
The report, staffers said, cites improved communication between the State and Defense departments and says that military forces are now “arrayed in a different way to make them more available and able to more readily respond to potential crisis locations.”