Two members of a U.S. special-operations force and five private security contractors did respond to the terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year, but were unable to save Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others killed in the assault, The Washington Times reports.
Although questions still linger about why the U.S. military did not come to the aid of Americans at the U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA annex on the night of Sept.11, 2012, the newspaper cited unidentified sources that a special-ops unit was in Tripoli on a counter-terrorism mission at the time.
According to the account provided by the sources, the Times said, a unit of eight special operators — primarily Green Beret and Delta Force members — was in the Libyan capital the night of the attack on a mission that involved capturing weapons and wanted terrorists. When they learned of the events unfolding in Benghazi, two of them volunteered to be dispatched there.
"Yes, we had special forces in Tripoli, and two, in fact, did volunteer and engaged heroically in the efforts to save Americans," one source told the newspaper. "The others were asked to stay behind to help protect Tripoli in case there was a coordinated attack on our main embassy."
The two special ops soldiers, along with five private security contractors, arrived on a flight from Tripoli in time to take part in the final firefight between the terrorists and Americans holed up in the CIA annex near the diplomatic mission, the sources told the Times.
Stephens, another American diplomat, and two former Navy Seals were killed in the attacks. The two special ops commandos were awarded medals for valor for helping prevent many more casualties, according to the newspaper.
The sources said the Pentagon and administration officials did not publicly acknowledge the special operators' involvement on the night of the attacks because the counterterrorism work inside Libya was too sensitive. The United States also had no agreement in place to authorize the mission.
Until now, there have been few details about who was involved in the firefight.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
acknowledged to Congress during hearings last year that some U.S. forces were in the region, but suggested there was no military response.
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"The bottom line is this: that we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response, " Panetta testified. "Very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region, time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, [and] events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response."
Meanwhile, the Justice and State departments are citing a year-old FBI investigation and an upcoming criminal prosecution to block access to testimony from survivors of the Benghazi attacks, reports Fox News
In an Oct. 28 letter to South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, State Department Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield referred to "significant risks" and "serious concerns about having the survivors of the attack submit to additional interviews," according to Fox.
The South Carolina Republican for the last year has requested the FBI's transcripts of interviews with State Department and CIA survivors who were evacuated to Germany after the attacks.
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Graham and others reportedly believe the transcripts will dispute the administration's initial claim that the attack grew out of an anti-U.S. demonstration at the diplomatic complex in Benghazi that was prompted by a YouTube video critical of Muslims.
Now, Graham is asking that Congress be allowed to interview survivors of the attack as well, and is vowing to filibuster any White House nominees until he gets answers on Benghazi.
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