Resources available for Tripoli embassy evacuation raise questions about Benghazi

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I remember sitting in the House Armed Services Committee hearing on Benghazi and hearing then-Secretary of Defense Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dempsey telling us it simply wasn’t possible to move any resources in for support at that time. Thanks to an article in the Military Times, we get a window into the forces that were available this past weekend to secure the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

As reported, “Dozens of U.S. Marines and at least seven military aircraft were involved in Saturday’s embassy evacuation operation in Libya. Military officials have not disclosed the precise number of Marines assigned to the embassy in Libya, but NBC News reported Saturday that 80 “heavily armed” Marines were among the 158 Americans who vacated the compound. Embassy staff and their Marine escorts left the capital around 5 a.m.”

“The operation lasted five hours, ending without incident, officials said. Overhead, three Air Force F-16 fighters and two Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys kept watch on the convoy, said Tom Saunders, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command in Germany. The aircraft were accompanied by an unspecified number of surveillance drones.”

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“The F-16s, which flew out of Aviano Air Base in Italy, were supported by a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker from RAF Mildenhall in England, Saunders said. A 24-man Marine quick reaction force and a two-person medical team were inside the Ospreys, Saunders said. They were supported by a KC-130 refueling tanker. All of those personnel are assigned to Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF) Crisis Response based in Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. The crisis-response force and Task Force Tripoli are manned by members of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. They are scheduled to be replaced in the coming weeks by members of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, also out of Lejeune.”

Lessons learned? Sure, one would hope so, but I can assure you that two years ago, the same mission set was available at the same duty stations. My first tour of duty was in Italy and I know Aviano AB quite well. Fighter jets have been stationed there since I was a young Lieutenant during1984-1987. And having served with the II Marine Expeditionary Force from 1999-2002, I know very well of the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) that float from Camp Lejeune with mission responsibilities in the Mediterranean supporting three geographical CINCs (EUCOM, AFRICOM, and some CENTCOM). As the Military Times article shows, it’s a regular rotation lasting anywhere from 6-8 months.

And that doesn’t even count the “in extremis” counter-terrorism force assigned to every geographical CINC. So the obvious question is, what was the difference between this past Saturday and two years ago? My first assessment would be incompetence, because these assets were available — perhaps not immediately for the initial assault against the Benghazi special mission compound (SMC) – but still available

Say what you wish, but it sure looks to me like the ball was dropped — or maybe it was dropped purposefully?

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