(CNSNews.com) - The chairman and the vice chairman of the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, made dramatically different statements on Wednesday about the duration of those attacks that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.
The relevant duration of the event shrunk from "almost eight hours" to "only about 20 or 30 minutes" when a reporter asked this "accountability" team why the U.S. military had not been sent to Benghazi to help that night.
During his opening statement at a State Department briefing, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who chaired the ARB, said the terrorist attacks occurred over a span of almost eight hours.
“What happened on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours,” Pickering volunteered.
About 20 minutes later in the same briefing, as Ambassador Pickering nodded his head in agreement, retired Admiral Michael Mullen, the vice chairman of the ARB, put the Benghazi terror event in a very different timeframe. He said it lasted only about 20 or 30 minutes.
Mullen, who formerly served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was responding to a reporter who had asked why the U.S. military never became involved.
“Why such a passing reference to military involvement?” the reporter asked. “Can you explain why they couldn’t have done more?”
“We looked at the force posture very specifically, and while we had a lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land, it is not reasonable that they could have responded … in any kind of timely way,” said Mullen. “This was over in a matter of about 20 or 30 minutes with respect to the Special Mission specifically. And we had no forces ready or tethered, if you will, focused on that mission so that they could respond, nor would I expect we would have.”
Mullen not only narrowed the length of the terror attack to 20 or 30 minutes, but also defined it as only those events at the “Special Mission” compound, which was the State Department's facility in Benghazi.
However, a CIA timeline of the Sept. 11 events, which was provided by a senior U.S. intelligence official, and which generally comports with the description of events in the ARB’s own report, shows that about one hour and fifty minutes elapsed between the time the State Department’s “Special Mission” compound first came under attack and the moment when a rescue team from the nearby CIA “Annex” was able to extract the surviving U.S. personnel from that mission.
But even that was not nearly the end of the terror attacks on the Americans in Benghazi that night.
As the State Department security personnel rescued by the team from the Annex fled from the "Special Mission" to the Annex—as both the CIA timeline and the ARB report show—it was attacked. The Annex facility itself was also under fire until about 1:00 a.m.--or about two hours and twenty minutes after the attack first started at the "Special Mission."
The terrorists would then launch yet another attack on the Annex shortly after 5:00 a.m.
The ARB report itself--which Mullen co-authored--describes the initial attack on the "Special Mission" compound as lasting far more than 20 or 30 minutes Mullen claimed it id at the State Department briefing. The report says the State Department's own security personnel and the Annex rescue team left that site without having recovered Amb. Stevens because they were afraid they could no longer hold the location and came under fire even as they were evacuating it.
The following three paragraphs, taken from the ARB's report, describe first how the State Department's security team, and then the Annex rescue team, retreated from the "Special Mission" compound even though they had not found Amb. Stevens:
"At the urging of the Annex security team and friendly militia members, who warned that the compound was at risk of being overrun, the TDY RSO [State Department temporary duty regional security officer] and four ARSOs [assistant regional security officers] departed for the Annex without having found Ambassador Stevens. As the Annex team provided cover fire, the five DS agents’ fully armored vehicle departed and took hostile fire as they left the SMC and turned right out of the C1 entrance. The driver, ARSO 1, reversed direction to avoid a crowd farther down the street, then reverted back to the original easterly route towards the crowd after a man whom the DS agents believed to be with February 17 signaled them to do so. Farther ahead, another man in a small group of individuals then motioned to them to enter a neighboring compound, some 300 meters to the east of the C1 entrance of the Special Mission compound. The DS [State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security] agents suspected a trap, ignored this signal, and continued past. The group along the route then opened fire at the vehicle’s side, shattering and almost penetrating the armored glass and blowing out two tires. While the identities of the individuals who fired upon the DS agents is unknown, they may have been part of the initial wave of attackers who swarmed the SMC earlier that night. A roadblock was present outside this compound and groups of attackers were seen entering it at about the time this vehicle movement was taking place."
"ARSO 1 accelerated past the armed crowd and navigated around another crowd and roadblock near the end of the road, driving down the center median andinto the oncoming lane at one point to bypass stopped traffic. Two cars followed, with one turning off and the other following them with its lights off until it turned into a warehouse area not far from the Annex. The DS vehicle then proceeded to the Annex, arriving around 2330 local. There the ARSOs joined Annex personnel and took up defensive positions, to await the Annex security and Tripoli response team. The situation was relatively quiet. Wounded personnel received medical support.
"Back at the SMC, the Annex security team at Villa C used small arms fire and took defensive positions to respond to an apparent second phase attack, which lasted about 15 minutes and included small arms fire and at least three rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) launched from outside the C3 gate. With their many and repeated attempts to retrieve the Ambassador having proven fruitless and militia members warning them the SMC could not be held much longer, the Annex team departed the SMC, carrying with them the body of IMO Smith. They arrived back at the Annex and moved to take up additional defensive positions."
While Ambassador Stevens and State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith both died of smoke inhalation within the "Special Mission" in the first wave of the terror attacks, it was about seven and a half hours after that initial attack started that former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed by terrorist mortars fired on the Annex.
During the time that President Obama was not ordering the U.S. military to Benghazi to try to rescue the Americans there, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, according to the ARB report, tried to solicit help from the Libyan military and from the same Libyan militia that had been hired (and failed) to protect the Benghazi mission. Ultimately--the report says it was "within hours"--the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli managed to charter a private airplane to send its own seven-man rescue team of Americans to Benghazi to try to help their countrymen who were under attack there.
This rescue team did include "two U.S. military personnel."
"The Embassy also reached out to Libyan Air Force and Armed Forces contacts, February 17 leadership, and UN and third country embassies, among others," said the ARB. "Within hours, Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi."
The administration apparently determined that reaching out to a Libyan militia and government that had already failed in their duty to protect American diplomats, and then spending "hours" to charter a private plane, was a more efficient way to get reinforcements to Benghazi then to deploy some of what Mullen at Wednesday's briefing described as the "lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land."
According to the CIA timeline, the ad hoc rescue team from Tripoli flew its private chartered airplane to the Benghazi airport were it had to “negotiate for transport into town,” and only “finally manage[d] to secure transportation and armed escort.” This team got to the Annex, says the CIA timeline, by about 5:15 in the morning Benghazi time. Mullens' own ARB report says they arrived about 5:00 in the morning.
It was just after that that a terrorist mortar attack on the Annex killed Woods and Doherty. They died approximately seven and a half hours after the terror attacks started.
British Airways uses Airbus A320 aircraft to run commercial flights from London to Libya that take 3 hours and 30 minutes. An Airbus could have flown from England to Libya and back in the time that elapsed from the beginning of the Benghazi terror attack to the deaths of Woods and Doherty.
"The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference," Pickering and Mullen's accountability report concluded.