A man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (AFP)
Washington, Dec. 19: An independent inquiry into the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Libya that killed four Americans on September 11 sharply criticised the state department for a lack of seasoned security personnel and for relying on untested local militias to safeguard the compound, according to a report by the panel made public last night.
The investigation into the attack on the diplomatic mission and the CIA annexe in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans also faulted state department officials in Washington for ignoring requests from the American embassy in Tripoli for more guards for the mission and for failing to make sufficient safety upgrades.
The panel also said American intelligence officials had relied too much on specific warnings of imminent attacks, which they did not have in the case of Benghazi, rather than basing assessments more broadly on a deteriorating security environment. By this spring, Benghazi, a hotbed of militant activity in eastern Libya, had experienced a string of assassinations, an attack on a British envoy’s motorcade and the explosion of a bomb outside the American mission.
Finally, the report blamed two major state department bureaus — diplomatic security and Near Eastern Affairs — for failing to coordinate and plan adequate security. The panel also determined that a number of officials had shown poor leadership, but they were not identified in the unclassified version of the report that was released.
“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus,” the report said, resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place”.
The attack in Benghazi and the Obama administration’s explanation of what happened and who was responsible became politically charged issues in the waning weeks of the presidential campaign, and Republicans have continued to demand explanations since then. Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, took herself out of consideration for secretary of state after Republican criticism of comments she made in the aftermath of the lethal attack threatened to become a divisive political battle.
The report affirmed there were no protests of an anti-Islamic video before the attack, contrary to what Rice had said.
While the report focused on the specific attack in Benghazi, the episode cast into broader relief the larger question of how American diplomats and intelligence officers operate in increasingly unstable environments, like those in the Arab Spring countries without increased security.
In response to the panel’s findings, secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter to Congress that she was accepting all 29 of the panel’s recommendations, five of which are classified. “To fully honour those we lost, we must better protect those still serving to advance our nation’s vital interests and values overseas,” Hillary Clinton said in the letter.
They say the state department is asking permission from Congress to transfer more than $1.3 billion from contingency funds that had been allocated for spending in Iraq. This includes $553 million for hundreds of additional Marine security guards.