Friday, September 14, 2012

Failure in Libya

US Consulate - Benghazi in Flames                  (c) Hadeel al Shalchi

Click here for related story [The Independent]

It appears that Pastor Jones' video was more of a distractor than a cause of the attacks on US Embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Indonesia.  The attack was a sophisticated, well-planned and coordinated assault -- hardly a spontaneous mob event.

Campaign photo op as bodies are returned          
Senior US diplomats advise that there was "credible information" of a probable attack a full 48 hours in advance, and diplomatic security officials took no action in the absence of directives from the Secretary of State or the President -- neither of whom had attended the morning intelligence briefs at the White House Situation Room this week.

The White House denies that there was advance warning - perhaps because Mr Obama was not there, but, rather out campaigning for reelection.

The attacks were reportedly in retaliation for the US drone strike in Pakistan which killed Al Qa'ida Mohammed Hassan Qaed -- a Libyan.

The Libyan security force guarding the Consulate in Benghazi, consisting of about 30 armed men, reportedly fled the area in the face of the mob, motivated by agitators who energized them by referring to Jones' video.

The mob gave excellent cover to the ringleaders who proceeded to launch the attack after retrieving weapons hidden near the Consulate.

Ambassador Chris Stevens' visit to the Consulate, following his return from Europe, was supposed to be confidential.  Apparently, part of that visit was to receive classified briefs.  New information reveals that there was a "... serious and continuing security breach" which exposed the Ambassador's movements and schedule.

The security breaches exposed the Ambassador's movements, and it appears the attackers planned the the complex operation to coincide with his return, using heavy weapons -- including RPGs [rocket propelled grenades], machine guns, and mortars. 

Initial accounts put the Ambassador in a car with two bodyguards and a public affairs officer -- all being killed except the Ambassador.

An alternate account puts the Ambassador in the burning Consulate, unconscious and overcome by dense smoke; local Libyans supposedly found him and took him to the Benghazi Medical Center where he died.

The Public Affairs officer was reportedly killed evacuating the Consular staff to the Safe House.

The accurate details will eventually surface.

Reuters reports that eight US troops were dispatched by helicopter to rescue the survivors ran into a fierce, overnight ambush, leaving two US Marines dead -- one from mortar fire; another 12 were believed wounded.  The local Libyan commander estimated there were only ten Americans to be evacuated, creating a problem evacuating the other 27 persons.

The "take" from the attack included classified files, the identity of Libyans working for the US -- putting them at risk, oil contracts, and the location of the Embassy Safe House.  However, the Safe House appears to have already been compromised since it came under heavy and extremely accurate attack after about 40 US Embassy employees gathered there.

The attack in Libya may have been only the first in a series of planned attacks which followed in Cairo and Sanaa.  There were concerns that US personnel [embassy and military] would be targeted in Iraq, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

In addition, British and German embassies have been targeted, and  both were stormed in Sudan.  Islamic anti-American protests have spread throughout the world.
Islamic protests have now spread across the globe                              [Reuters]

This tragedy needs a careful after-action review:

1) Ignoring "credible information" of a possible/probable attack and not raising the alert status put both Embassy and Consular personnel at high, and unnecessary risk -- particularly given the turmoil in Benghazi as rival factions battled for dominance of the region which sits on 80 per cent of Libya's oil reserves.

2) The NEO [Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation] plan, developed as part of the embassy security plan, worked relatively well, given the circumstances, since the staff was moved safely and efficiently to the Safe House and survived a massive. professional,  and well coordinated assault.

3) The failure points were
     a.  Poor security as the attack force
          1) Was fully aware of the Ambassador's itinerary
          2) The location of the Safe House was known to the attackers
               -- whose mortars were already zeroed in.
          3) The Consulate and Safe House had obviously been under surveillance for some time,
               without detection, before the attack
     b.  Inadequate communications between the Consulate and the Embassy in Tripoli.
     c.  Incomplete status reports reflecting the number of diplomats located at the Consulate
     d.  Insufficient number of security force/Marine Guards to protect the Consulate
          -- given the 48 hour warning.