The blame for the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack lies "entirely with Washington," and Ambassador Christopher Stevens shared no responsibility for the tragedy, contrary to a recent congressional report, says Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
In an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, Hicks says that Stevens' repeated requests for additional security at the compound were denied or ignored, and that Washington had reduced the number of security personnel from 30 in July to nine by September.
"Officials at the State and Defense Departments in Washington made the decisions that resulted in reduced security," Hicks writes.
Hicks, who was working alongside Stevens in Benghazi, describes a series of problems that resulted when the administration decided to change responsibility for special forces from the State Department to the Defense Department.
Stevens was concerned that the transfer of authority would strip the special forces team of its diplomatic immunity, Hicks says, putting them in a perilous position. Stevens pressed for U.S. military personnel serving in Libya to first receive diplomatic immunity before any change of authority took place, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta went ahead with the transfer anyway.
Hicks says that soon after the decision was made, Stevens' fears came true when two special forces team members in a diplomatic vehicle were attacked in Tripoli.
"The incident highlighted the risks associated with having military personnel in Libya unprotected by diplomatic immunity or a status of forces agreement," Hicks writes.
As a result of the incident, he says, Stevens was forced to agree to the withdrawal of most of the special forces team from Tripoli until the Libyan government formally approved their new training mission and granted them diplomatic immunity.
What's more, the Defense Department had initially offered to extend the special forces mission to protect the U.S. Embassy in accordance with Stevens' requests, but State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy refused, saying Libyan guards would be hired to take over that responsibility. Diplomatic protocol thus required Stevens to decline the Defense Dept. offers to extend the special forces security mission.
Hicks states that, "Gen. [Carter] Ham [head of the U.S. Africa Command] wanted to withdraw the entire special forces team from Tripoli until they had Libyan government approval of their new mission and the diplomatic immunity necessary to perform their mission safely. However, Chris convinced Gen. Ham to leave six members of the team in Tripoli."
"I was interviewed by the [Senate] Select Committee [on Intelligence] and its staff, who were professional and thorough. I explained this sequence of events. For some reason, my explanation did not make it into the Senate report," Hicks writes.
"To sum up: Chris Stevens was not responsible for the reduction in security personnel. His requests for additional security were denied or ignored. Officials at the State and Defense Departments in Washington made the decisions that resulted in reduced security."
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