The Benghazi attack was tragic, and it exposed the politicization in our military. How can we prevent something like this in the future?
From Center for Security Policy. Eleven years ago this morning I watched the dark blue and grey waters of the West African coastline illuminate with the morning sun. Our team of Marines from 3d Force Recon Company were training naval commandos of a partner nation as part of a “Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force” (SPMAGTF) on the African continent. What began as a normal training day quickly changed when one of our temporary guests – a U.S. Army veteran infantryman turned American Legion war correspondent – came to me with the news that “something bad was happening in Libya.”
I immediately handed our correspondent the Iridium satellite phone and told him, “You’re now our ‘unclassified intel guy.’ Call all your media contacts and find out what’s going on.” I fired up the USMC-issued classified laptop and connected to the satellite communications network to begin searching for intelligence reports pertaining to recent events in Libya.
Before I could even locate any intelligence reports on the classified side, our war correspondent got back to me with a sobering message. “Sir, it’s bad. There’s a consulate under attack in Benghazi.”
Despite being many miles to the south of Libya, our team was determined to prepare ourselves to respond. I told the men, “We’re not training our partners today, but they can watch everything we do to prepare for this potential mission – from the zero-checks on our optics, to the gun drills, to the pack-out procedures…get started.” I called the embassy and alerted their staff to what I had learned.
It was news to them.
Our African partner unit was commanded by a man almost my dad’s age. I told him, “Commandant, we aren’t going to be training you today as planned. Today, your commandos can watch us train.” He agreed. (A motivated Force Reconnaissance team doing gun drills in preparation for combat is truly inspiring.
The men prepared with sober seriousness and enthusiasm while I went back to the classified laptop to try to learn more about what was happening in Libya. Within an hour I located a classified report describing the attack which had taken place overnight. Accurate mortar fire, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), machine guns – a combined arms ambush –followed by ground attacks with small arms and arson. To me it seemed obvious it was a pre-planned attack timed to coincide with September 11th.
I pulled the team together and briefed them on what I had learned. I called the embassy again and informed them that we would be ready to move north to their location to reinforce the embassy security detail if needed or to stage for pick-up by other DoD assets in the case they needed us to move elsewhere. The embassy was grateful but told us to sit tight while they tried to find out what guidance they were getting from the State Department.
By this point the partner nation commandos had learned fully what had happened in Libya. Some of them had driven over to the nearest town to watch on the television the footage of burning buildings and black billowing smoke from the U.S. consulate. The aged commandant returned to me with a very serious demeanor. “Major, when your helicopters come…when they come to pick you up…please make room for us. We saw what is happening to your fellow Americans. We want to fight with you.”
The helicopters never came.
As America now knows, our situation was hardly unique. U.S. military personnel from around the globe were desperately trying to help, prepared to respond, and told to stand down.
When we flew back to the main operating base for the SPMAGTF in Italy I looked down through the window of the C-130 and saw an airfield stacked with JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) aircraft. Walking through the base, we saw it crammed full of some of America’s most capable warriors. Across the base men were flipping tires, doing pull ups, and running in combat gear everywhere you looked –trying to burn off pent-up anger and testosterone built up from preparing to go to combat, and then being told to stand down. I would soon be joining them for my own anger-induced physical training.
I re-integrated myself into SPMAGTF staff and began attending the mandatory meetings and briefings. This is where I was first introduced to the deceit creeping into an increasingly politicized military.
Using material passed to him from various higher headquarters, our unit’s intelligence officer provided a classified briefing on current events, which claimed what occurred in Benghazi was spontaneous – the result of an American-made video that insulted Islam. Because of my unique circumstances that day, I already knew that was a lie, and that those in charge knew it was a lie when they passed it down the chain. I was struck by watching an otherwise good guy forced to pass down deliberate falsehoods received from above. And the other good men in the room forced to hear it, knowing it wasn’t true.
Our hearts go out to the victims of the attack on Benghazi, and all the other American victims of global jihadist terrorism. One cannot help but be inspired by the knowledge that so many of America’s fighting men are willing to risk everything for even the smallest chance to protect their fellow citizens from danger. One wonders also what that wizened African commando leader thinks now, having been willing to risk the lives of his own men for a partner nation that wouldn’t lift a finger to save its own.
The reality is that there is no terror attack that can do as much harm to America, its allies, its military, or its citizens, as a leadership that lies –and forces others to repeat those lies.
What I witnessed that day eleven years ago played a significant role in my willingness to join the Center for Security Policy and has shaped my vision for it. The work of our “OSINT” intelligence analyst and his journalism contacts reminds me that an uncompromising search for the truth beats out expensive high-tech systems and “classified” data, every time. The motivation of my Marines and our partner commandos to answer the call reminds me that it’s the regular people –the grunts, the grassroots– who if they are simply told the truth, have the willingness and ability to make things happen.
Ultimately, Benghazi reminds us that keeping faith with the American people is more important that any narrative, no matter how politically advantageous it might be at the time.
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(Used with permission. From Center for Security Policy. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)