(CNSNews.com) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says U.S. forces were deployed as quickly as possible after terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11 -- but the attack "was largely over the by time we could respond."
"The fundamental fact is this -- that in order for us to be able to move quickly, we have to have some advanced notice that something is going to happen and, in this case, we didn't have that."
Panetta made the comments Monday as reporters questioned him on a flight to Perth, Australia.
"You know, one of the things that we are doing right now is we are involved in an assessment between DOD and the State Department to look at the embassies in that region and what additional steps need to be taken in order to ensure the security of our embassies.
"So, you know, we do need to look at how we can (a) improve the security and (2) be able to effectively respond if there are any threats.
"With regards to Benghazi itself, I think it's been pointed out, we moved very quickly to deploy the forces that we thought were important to deal with the threats in the region. We deployed those forces as quickly as we could, but the problem with Benghazi itself was that the events there were happening on a rapid pace and that attack was largely over by the time we could respond."
Panetta noted that the U.S. has "so many bases in the area," including Sigonella and Rota.
But, he added, "The fundamental fact is this -- that in order for us to be able to move quickly, we have to have some advanced notice that something is going to happen and, in this case, we didn't have that.
"When we were informed, the attack was already happening. And to be able to, you know, to respond quickly while an attack was going on just made it very difficult to be able to move as quickly as we would have wanted."
Last month, Panetta told a press briefing that the U.S. was "prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that." He said with regard to Benghazi, it was a question of sending troops into harm's way without real-time information:
"[T]he basic principle here -- basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place.
And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."