Lessons learned from Benghazi, two years on

Benghazi Attack
by Kent Covington
Posted 9/11/14, 03:10 pm

Two years after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a number of still unanswered questions surround the U.S. response on Sept. 11, 2012. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack. This week, several men who feel certain they could have saved those lives published their account of the events of that night in a book called 13 Hours in Benghazi

The three former military members of a private security team that fought the attackers say they were ordered to stand down and held back for 30 minutes during the fight. Numerous government officials have insisted no stand-down order was given to any responder.

Retired Army Special Forces Col. Steve Bucci studies national defense for The Heritage Foundation. I spoke with him about the latest revelations on the Benghazi attack.

What did you take away from what the three security commandos have told us? The main thing is that, clearly, that part of the story has not been articulated by anybody in the administration [or] by any of the folks that have done the investigations. Here was a source of information and insight that has been overlooked either intentionally or unintentionally by all of the folks looking into this. [The commandos] felt they had a plan that could’ve responded, but were essentially not allowed to execute it in as timely a manner as they could have otherwise.

A number of people have said, maybe we could have saved them, and maybe we couldn’t have. Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell of AFRICOM said a possible military rescue might have been able to. But these three gentlemen said, without hesitation, they could have been saved. These guys were a lot closer in the fight. I think dismissing them would be a bigger issue than dismissing what the general said. I don’t think they should have dismissed what the general said, frankly, but, in this case, I think it’s even more consequential.

Has the State Department learned its lesson with Benghazi? We did just see the U.S. embassy in Tripoli evacuated not long ago. Is the United States being a little more careful with the lives of its diplomats than it was on 9/11 two years ago? One hopes. … That was a pretty hefty application of military force to get those folks out safely. I think the administration realizes it got burned with Benghazi. Whether they want to take responsibility for it or not, that still remains to be seen. But they recognize that it did not go well, and they need to be, at least, more cognizant of what’s going on. … It is nice to also see someone take responsibility, but I’ll take the lessons learned if nothing else.

Are we safer in America today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001? I’d say, unequivocally, no. We’re more aware of the threats. We have a beefed-up security posture and intel-gathering capability, but, unfortunately, there’s a heck of a lot more threats out there than there were on Sept. 10, 2001. Al-Qaeda has metastasized and grown all over the world with its so-called affiliates, some of which are pretty darn capable. We have ISIS, which is now described by us at Heritage and a lot of other folks as the most dangerous and capable terrorist organization that anyone has ever seen because of its size, its funding, its equipment levels, and the number of experienced fighters it has. We’re safer on one hand in that the good guys are better at what they do. Unfortunately, that’s mitigated by the fact that there’s a lot more bad guys out there who are still coming at us who are not amenable to negotiation or recess or anything else. They just still want to kill us. Overall, I’d have to say we’re not safer than we were then. It’s not from us not trying. It’s because there are a lot more bad guys that are coming after us.

Listen to Kent Covington’s interview with retired Col. Steve Bucci on The World and Everything in It: