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Intel Committee Republicans slam Joint Chiefs chairman on Benghazi

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that six of the seven Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and not the full committee, leveled these criticisms against Dempsey.

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee singled out Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of exhibiting poor leadership and insufficient planning in their report on the Sept. 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The full committee on Wednesday released a declassified report on the attacks by al-Qaida linked militants that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

“The tenure of … General Martin Dempsey, has been marked by what we view as significant deficiencies in command,” the report states in the addendum signed by Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss, Richard Burr, James Risch, Daniel Coats, Marco Rubio and Tom Coburn. “From Syria to Benghazi, there has been either a profound inability or clear unwillingness to identify and prevent problems before they arise. Given the known operating environment in Benghazi, much less North Africa, a strong military leader would have ensured there was a viable plan in place to rescue Americans should the need arise.”

The harsh assessment of Dempsey divided the committee along partisan lines. Republican Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican on the committee who did not sign off on the addendum, and none of the committee Democrats took part in the attacks on the chairman.

In Congressional hearings held in the wake of the Benghazi incident, Dempsey and other senior defense officials argued that a rescue operation was not feasible after the attacks began due to poor intelligence about the situation on the ground and a lack of sufficient quick-reaction military assets in the region that could have gotten to Benghazi in time to save those who died.

“General Dempsey’s attempts to excuse inaction by claiming that forces were not deployed because they would not have gotten there in time does not pass the common sense test. No one knew when the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi would end, or how aggressive the attacks would be. That is the whole point of a pre-established emergency rescue plan — so that the length of the attack alone does not dictate the rescue or survival of Americans,” the Republican committee members said. “General Dempsey should have ensured that plan was in place, but he failed to do so … The fate of United States personnel serving in dangerous areas of the world should not rest on ad hoc rescue operations, no matter how heroic, simply because the United States Government and its civilian and military leaders have failed in their collective responsibilities to provide security and potentially life-saving assistance.”

The GOP also blames Dempsey for failing to inform U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for operations in Libya, about the existence of the CIA Annex and intelligence personnel in Benghazi.

“We are puzzled as to how the military leadership expected to effectively respond and rescue Americans in the event of an emergency when it did not even know of the existence of one of the U.S. facilities,” the senators said.

But the Republicans on the committee placed the ultimate blame for the loss of American lives in Benghazi on Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time.

“The final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,” they said. “The Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi did not meet the security standards set by the State Department … At the end of the day, she was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities. Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”

Cmdr. Scott McIlnay, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, issued the following statement to Stars and Stripes when asked to respond to the committee members’ criticism of Dempsey:

“The Chairman has testified before Congress multiple times on the military response to the attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of Ambassador Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty and Sean Smith. Our forces were ordered to respond upon notification of the attack. But the fact remains, as we have repeatedly indicated, that U.S. military forces could not have arrived in time to mount a rescue of those Americans who were killed and injured that night.”

The full committee report offered a similar assessment.

“There were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend the Temporary Mission Facility and its Annex on September 11 and 12, 2012,” the report states. “The small number of U.S. military resources devoted to the vast and often ungoverned North African landscape makes it unlikely that DOD can respond in short periods to all potential crises across North Africa.”

Following the Benghazi attacks, the U.S. military set up a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force to respond to future Benghazi-like scenarios in North Africa. The SP-MAGTF is now based in Moron, Spain. Another new crisis-response force — the East Africa Response Force — has also been established to deal with similar crises in other parts of Africa. The EARF is based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

harper.jon@stripes.com
Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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