U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack, which has become a heated campaign issue less than two weeks before the election. Republicans have criticized the Obama administration’s failure to more quickly acknowledge that intelligence suggested very early on that it was a planned terrorist attack, rather than spontaneous violence erupting out of protests over an anti-Muslim film.
House and Senate Republicans, as well as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have criticized President Barack Obama and administration officials over the response to the attack and whether officials failed to provide enough security at the consulate.
And there have been ongoing questions about whether there should have been additional military forces sent to the consulate immediately after it became clear that the Americans were under attack.
As the events were unfolding, the Pentagon began to move special operations forces from Europe to Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. U.S. aircraft routinely fly in and out of Sigonella and there are also fighter jets based in Aviano, Italy. But while the U.S. military was at a heightened state of alert because of 9/11, there were no American forces poised and ready to move immediately into Benghazi when the attack began.
Also, the Pentagon would not send forces or aircraft into Libya — a sovereign country — without a request from the State Department and the knowledge or consent of the host nation.
During his news conference, Panetta lamented the “Monday morning quarterbacking” that has been going on about how the U.S. handled the attack. And Dempsey, sitting alongside Panetta, bristled at questions about what the military did or did not do in the aftermath.
Noting that there are reviews already going on, Dempsey added, “It’s not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers. I can tell you, however, sitting here today, that I feel confident that our forces were alert and responsive to what was a very fluid situation.”