TEL AVIV – A Pentagon email released by Judicial Watch on Tuesday referenced “forces that could move to Benghazi” and that were “spinning up” to do so the night of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Special Mission.
The email may prompt further investigation into decisions made during and immediately after the attack. In particular, the possibility of deploying highly trained Special Forces stationed just a few hours away from Benghazi. Ultimately, those forces were not sent.
The newly released email was sent by then-Department of Defense Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash to State Department and Pentagon officials.
In the email, Bash writes, “We have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.”
The time stamp on the email reads 7:19 p.m. ET, about an hour and 20 minutes after the second attack was launched on the CIA Annex located 1.2 miles from the Special Mission compound.
The email does not mention which forces were “spinning up.” Instead, the correspondence offers a small window into the much larger decision-making process the night of the attacks. Follow-up emails have not been released.
Bash’s email was sent to Jacob Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs; and Thomas Nided, the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.
Among those cc’d were Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The full email reads:
From: Bash, Jeremy CIV SD [REDACTED]
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:19 PM
To: Sullivan, Jacob J; Sherman, Wendy R; Nides, Thomas R
Cc: Miller, James HON OSD POLICY; Wienefeld, James A ADM JSC VCJCS; Kelly, John LtGen SD; martin, dempsey [REDACTED]
I just tried you on the phone but you were all in with S [an apparent reference to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton].
After consulting with General Dempsey, General Ham and the Joint Staff, we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak. They include a [REDACTED].
Assuming Principals agree to deploy these elements, we will ask State to procure the approval from host nation. Please advise how you wish to convey that approval to us [REDACTED].
Movement of Special Forces
The email makes clear that forces capable of moving to Benghazi were not only identified but were “spinning up” and awaiting approval by “principals.”
In April 2013, Fox News aired an interview in which a special government operator, speaking anonymously, claimed that highly trained Special Forces were stationed just a few hours away, but were not deployed.
“I know for a fact that C-110, the EUCOM CIF, was doing a training exercise in … not in the region of North Africa, but in Europe,” the special operator told Fox News’ Adam Housley. “And they had the ability to act and to respond.”
C-110 stands for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. It is a highly-trained Special Ops force maintained by the Pentagon for rapid deployment in emergency situations, including overseas terrorist attacks targeting U.S. facilities.
The operator revealed to Fox News Channel’s Adam that the night of the attacks C-110 forces were training in Croatia, which is about 930 miles from Benghazi. Fox News reported that the forces were stationed just three and a half hours away.
“We had the ability to load out, get on birds, and fly there, at a minimum stage,” the operator said. “C-110 had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in a matter of about four hours … four to six hours.”
In a June 2013 senatorial hearing on Defense Department budget requests, Dempsey was specifically asked about the Fox News report during a line of questioning by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
“It [C-110] was on a training mission in Bosnia, that is correct,” Dempsey responded. Dempsey was mistaken, however. He was asked whether C-110 was training in Croatia, not Bosnia. Later, Dempsey referred to the forces as training in Croatia.
Johnson asked Dempsey if he agreed with a Fox News timeline that claimed C-110 could have made it to Benghazi in four to six hours.
“No, I would not agree to that timeline,” he stated. “The travel time alone would have been more than that, and that is if they were sitting on the tarmac.”
His remarks are inaccurate. The travel time between Benghazi and Croatia for a large passenger aircraft would be about two hours and eight minutes, according to calculations.
Dempsey confirmed reports that, on the night of the attack, command of C-110 was transferred from the military’s European command to AFRICOM, or the United States Africa Command. “There was a point at which the CIF was transitioned over into AFRICOM” from European command, he said.
Dempsey said he was not able to provide a timeline for precisely when command was transferred, taking that question for the record instead.
Dempsey also confirmed reports that C-110 was deployed to its normal operating base in Germany instead of being sent to Benghazi.
“They were told to begin preparations to leave Croatia and to return to their normal operating base” in Germany.
Panetta: ‘We spared no effort’
In February 2013, meanwhile, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee there were indeed forces deployed to the region. But he said that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”
Panetta stated that “despite the uncertainty at the time,” the Pentagon and “the rest of the United States government spared no effort to do everything we could to try to save American lives.”
Panetta described numerous actions he said were taken in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attacks:
In consultation with General Dempsey and AFRICOM commander General Ham, I directed several specific actions. First, we ordered a Marine fleet anti-terrorism secure team, a FAST team, stationed in Spain to prepare to deploy to Benghazi. A second FAST platoon was ordered to prepare to deploy to the embassy in Tripoli.
A special operations force, which was training in Central Europe, was ordered to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe, Sigonella, and a special operations force based in the United States was ordered to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe as well at Sigonella.
Panetta did not explain why the referenced special operations force training in Central Europe –likely the C-110 – had not been immediately ordered to deploy directly to Benghazi.