DOD Had ‘Assets Pre-Positioned’ Off Libya—In Case It Needed to Rescue Hillary Clinton

Terence P. Jeffrey | May 3, 2013 | 12:30pm EDT
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Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Tripoli, Libya, on Oct. 18, 2011. The State Department published this photo in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's annual report, noting that the man in dark glasses on the left and in a red tie on the right were DS agents. (State Department photo)

( - When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced part-of-the-day visit to Tripoli, Libya, on Oct. 18, 2011, the U.S. Defense Department pre-positioned assets off the Libyan coast in case it needed to rescue the secretary of state.

The fact that the assets were pre-positioned for Clinton’s visit was included in the annual report of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS). asked the Pentagon if it would specify which military assets had been prepositioned off Libya at the time Clinton’s visit. The inquiry was forwarded to U.S. Africa Command, but a spokesman for that command declined to add any details to what had been stated in BDS report.

“One of the most complex security challenges presented to the Secretary’s [Diplomatic Security] Detail was her equally historic and ground-breaking trip to Libya in October [2011], after the fall of the Qaddafi regime,” said the BDS annual report.

“The transitional operating environment in Tripoli was turbulent and unpredictable,” said the report. “DS advance team agents engaged in delicate negotiations with local militia, and quickly coordinated a diverse security team of quick-reaction forces, a tactical operations center, casualty evacuation planners, and DoD assets pre-positioned off the coast of Tripoli.

“Her DS protective detail then safely escorted the secretary and her party into the country, where she was able to raise the level of U.S. government contact with that nation’s fledgling freedom initiative,” said the report.

A number of other world and U.S. leaders had preceded Clinton in visiting Tripoli after revolutionary forces forced Muammar Qaddafi to flee the city in August 2011.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) give a press conference during their visit to Tripoli, Libya on Sept. 29, 2011. (AP Photo)

These early visitors included British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who made a joint visit on Sept. 15; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited on Sept. 16; Italian Prime Minister Franco Frattini, who visited on Sept. 30; U.S. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio, who visited on Sept. 29; and British Foreign Minister William Hague, who visited on Oct. 17, one day before Clinton arrived.

On Oct. 17, as Secretary Clinton flew to Malta on her way to her unannounced appearance Libya, two senior State Department officials gave a background briefing to reporters on board the secretary’s plane.

Reporters asked why Clinton was so far behind the others in personally visiting Libya.

“What took her so long to get there?” a reporter asked. “She's like the last one into this party. Hague has been there, Cameron, Sarkozy has been there. I mean, Frattini's been there. It seems like pretty much all of the allies have had meetings, what took so long?”

One of the State Department officials responded to this question by pointing out that Clinton the primary person in the Obama administration pushing the cause of the Libyan revolution.

“The Secretary has been the lead in the U.S. Government on Libya since the time that the president made the decision that we would join the NATO-led coalition, that we would help set the theater for the protection of the civilian mission that the NATO-led coalition carried out,” a senior State Department official responded.

A moment later, a reporter followed up on the question of why Clinton had been preceded in Libya by other foreign leaders: “Why is she the last one to enter this?”

“Look, I think it was a matter of wanting to ensure that the Transitional National Council was at a stage that it was ready to have a Secretary of State sit down and talk to them about the path forward rather than the immediate needs today,” said the senior State Department official.

During her brief time in Tripoli, Clinton was accompanied by then-Amb. Gene Cretz and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, when she gave a speech to the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

Clinton started this speech by joking to Amb. Cretz and Feltman about how they had “pulling our hair out about what to do” when, at the outbreak of the revolution, they “worried that Qaddafi and [Libyan intelligence Chief Abdullah] Senussi were going to kill you.”

“As Gene and Assistant Secretary Feltman and I were walking through here, they were talking about how the last time Jeff was here was when we were very worried that Qaddafi and Senussi were going to kill you,” said Clinton.

“Yeah,” said Cretz.

“And we were debating and just pulling our hair out about what to do and how to respond to it, and then the threats got worse and the intimidation got worse, and so we had to bring Gene home for consultations, as they say,” said Clinton. “But here you are, you’re back and Qaddafi’s gone. So it somehow seems to be all’s right with the world.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gestures with a group of Libyan soldiers before boarding the plane to depart Libya after her brief visit there on Oct. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque)

Eleven months after Secretary Clinton’s visit to Tripoli, then-U.S Amb. Chris Stevens visited the U.S. State Department mission in Benghazi, Libya. He arrived on Sept. 10, 2012.

The next day--the eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—Libyan terrorists launched a series of attacks on the U.S. State Department and CIA compounds in Benghazi. In those attacks, the terrorists killed Stevens, State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. As the attacks unfolded over a span of approximately seven and a half hours, the only U.S. military assets able to reach Benghazi were a pair of unarmed surveillance drones and two military personnel who joined a rescue team that traveled by chartered aircraft from Tripoli.

The State Department did not respond to inquiries from about the military assets that pre-positioned off Libya during Secretary Clinton’s October 2011 visit.

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