Elite U.S. troops were completely capable of saving Ambassador Chris Stevens during the Benghazi Consulate attacks on September 11, 2012. Elements of the highly specialized Combatant Commanders In-Extremis (CIF) units are always on alert, on forward deployment, ready to respond. Their job description is to hit the ground in 3 to 5 hours. CIF elements are ready to engage in active combat anywhere in their region, 3 to 5 hours after the call.
Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense at the time, either misled the U.S. Congress or was incompetent. Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013 that the U.S. military could not have responded in less than 9 to 12 hours.
Obama’s first secretary of defense, Robert Gates, told CBS’s Face the Nation on May 12, 2013 that “[w]e don’t have a ready force standing by” in that region.
But we absolutely do “have a ready force standing by” to reach any trouble spot in a few hours. Insider reports previously revealed that CIF elements were training in Croatia and could have been in Benghazi in three and a half hours.
Although rotating out of the United States, some CIF elements are always forward-deployed within each military command region, always on stand-by. Their training includes expertise within each local region. Some of each region’s unit is always ready. They don’t need to pack. Being ready to go — immediately — is their job description. It’s the reason they exist.
The U.S. military has developed a range of capabilities, from CIF teams to the Navy SEALs, to Rangers, to Green Berets. But now many in the special forces/special operators community feel betrayed. Commanders in Extremis units are so highly trained and expert that even elite Green Berets wash out of the highly demanding CIF training in large numbers.
Standard military doctrine is to activate all such resources immediately, even if they are ultimately not used. Military’s plans require getting such teams in the air and on the way, not waiting to see if they will be needed.
So Panetta’s and Gates’s statements to the public violate standard military protocol. Leon Panetta telegraphed to our enemies an image of incompetence of U.S. forces. Panetta’s testimony was an insult to the U.S. military. Elite forces go through constant, grueling training to be able to do what Panetta and Gates say they cannot do. One of the purposes of “special operators” is deterrence. Panetta and Gates undermined that deterrence.