Last week's congressional hearing on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, reignited the controversy over allegations that the Obama administration covered up or lied about details of the attack. The dispute will consume Washington for some time, ultimately influencing President Barack Obama’s effectiveness during his second term as well as the way the U.S. military responds to future crises.
There are three big questions about the Benghazi attacks: Did the Obama administration, particularly the State Department, take prudent steps to assure the security of embassy personnel in Libya before the attacks? Has the administration been open and honest about its actions and decisions before, during and after the attacks? And did the U.S. military make every reasonable effort to respond while the attacks were underway? The first two questions will be fought out in the political arena, but the third has direct implications for the Defense Department and the uniformed military.
The primary criticism of the military on Benghazi has been that it was too slow to move in potential relief units, which included a special operations forces contingent on a training mission in Croatia; a small special operations forces training team located in Tripoli at the time of the attacks; two Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams based in Spain; and some F-16 fighter aircraft stationed in Italy. Critics contend that all of these should have been on the ground in Benghazi or flying overhead as quickly as possible.