The Benghazi Attack as It Happened

Vanity Fair magazine has published a colorful and detailed account of the attack on the Benghazi compound last September. The piece is focused on the 40 minutes from the moments just before the attack to the time when a member of the Diplomatic Security team realized Ambassador Stevens appeared lost. It also suggests the attack was premeditated.

The attack began with a group of militants arriving in vehicles. One member walked up to the guard house, put his rifle to the glass and demanded the gate be opened. The unarmed guard complied and militants began streaming inside. They immediately opened another gate giving additional militants access to the compound.

The senior Diplomatic Security officer sounded an alarm and could see dozens of men streaming in and out via a video security system. He could also see the paid guards fleeing the scene. One of the agents–identified simply as “A” in the story–ran to get Ambassador Stevens and communications expert Sean Smith. He led them to the secure room and locked himself and them inside. Stevens borrowed a phone and began making calls including the one to Gregory Hicks in Tripoli.

One of the most important elements of the VF story is the detail suggesting the attack was carefully premeditated. Here I’ll quote at length:

It was clear that whoever the men who assaulted the compound
were, they had been given precise orders and impeccable intelligence.
They seemed to know when, where, and how to get from the access points
to the ambassador’s residence and how to cut off the DS agents as well
as the local guard force and the February 17 Martyrs Brigade militiamen
on duty that night. As is standard procedure, in the days leading up to
the arrival of the ambassador, the regional security officer and his
team had made a series of official requests to the Libyan government for
additional security support for the mission. It appears that the
attackers either intercepted these requests or were tipped off by
corrupt Libyan officials. According to one European security official
who had worked in Benghazi, “The moment notifications and requests went
out to the Libyan Transitional National Council and the militias in
advance of Stevens’s arrival, it was basically like broadcasting the
ambassador’s itinerary at Friday prayers for all to hear.”

attackers had seemed to know that there were new, uninstalled generators
behind the February 17 Martyrs Brigade command post, nestled between
the building and the overhang of foliage from the western wall, as well
as half a dozen jerry cans full of gasoline to power them.

DS agent A watched as militia members dragged the cans of fuel toward his hiding place. The story describes an intense decision where A had to choose between starting a gun battle which would likely result in their deaths or attempting to remain quiet and hide to allow more time for a rescue. He chose to continue hiding.

Eventually the militia did make their way to the secure door but were unable to pry it open by hand. They were also unable to get an angle to shoot anyone inside. They decided to simply burn the stronghold down. As the flames and smoke rose, A led Stevens and Smith to a bathroom. When he pried open a window a rush of air brought the flames higher. He made his way to another emergency escape route but by that time he found that Stevens and Smith were no longer with him.

Incredibly, A reentered the burning building at least six times to find them, until his hands were burned and he was suffering from painful smoke inhalation. Finally he was forced to retreat to a roof where he hid behind sandbags. The piece closes with him radioing in that he has lost track of the Ambassador.

Ambassador Stevens was pulled from the building some time later by people who appeared to be hopefully he would be found alive. He was taken to a local hospital but could not be revived.