Diplomatic security in Benghazi 'weak': US team chief

Diplomatic security in Benghazi was weak and deteriorating, a former special forces soldier who was the head of a US security team in the Libyan capital was to tell lawmakers Wednesday.

In Benghazi "the situation remained uncertain and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse. Diplomatic security remained weak," Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood said, in remarks prepared for a congressional hearing.

Wood said he had come forward as a private citizen to reveal what he knew about the situation in Libya from the time he spent as commander of a 16-strong site security team based in Tripoli from mid-February to mid-August.

He visited Benghazi twice and was there in June when the British ambassador's convoy was attacked and had helped provide medical and security help afterwards.

Appearing before the first special congressional hearing into the September 11 attack on the US consulate, Wood said: "The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there."

"Fighting between militias was still common when I departed. Some militias appeared to be degenerating into organizations resembling freelance criminal operations" the Utah National Guard member said, in prepared remarks.

"Targeted attacks against westerners were on the increase," Wood said, adding that in June there had been a direct threat made against ambassador Chris Stevens on Facebook, mentioning that he liked to jog regularly.

In April, there was only one US diplomatic security agent based in Benghazi and the regional security officer "had struggled to obtain additional personnel there but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with."

Wood, who spent 24 years in the special services, was to appear at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee amid allegations that President Barack Obama's administration failed to protect its diplomats.

Four Americans, including ambassador Stevens, were killed in the attack, now believed to be have been carried out by militants with Al-Qaeda ties.

Three top State Department officials were also due to address the committee to explain how the attack unfolded and what security was in place.

Amid a bitter campaign ahead of the November 6 elections, Republicans have denounced the Obama administration, accusing it of trying to cover up what really happened.

"We need to be dedicated to understanding the problems that surround this attack in order to find a solution. Our failure to do so will result in repeated instances that allow our adversaries an advantage over us," Wood said in his prepared testimony.

"My purpose in conveying this information is to prevent their ability to take the life of another Ambassador or kill other valuable and talented public servants working in the diplomatic service of their country."

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