JERUSALEM – Gen. Carter Ham, the former head of U.S. forces in Africa, has admitted that highly trained Special Forces were stationed just a few hours away from Benghazi on the night of the attack but were not deployed to Libya.
Ham’s explanation for why the military assets stationed abroad were not utilized during the attack raises more questions than it provides answers about his decision-making.
During the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, command of the Special Forces reportedly was transferred from the military’s European command to Ham’s AFRICOM, or the United States Africa Command.
The Special Forces unit is known as C-110, or EUCOM CIF. It is a 40-man Special Ops force maintained for rapid response to emergencies such as the Benghazi attack.
Ham told the Aspen Security Forum that he first received word of the Benghazi attack from his command post in Stuttgart, Germany. The post is where EUCOM CIF is normally based. The night the of the Benghazi attack, the unit was on a training mission in Croatia, as first reported by Fox News and now reconfirmed by Ham.
Ham stated the EUCOM CIF “happened to be in Croatia at the time, there on a six-hour notice, which is a pretty normal alert time.”
He further conceded that the force had “all their aircraft with them.”
The distance between Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, and Benghazi is about 925 miles.
Asked why no outside forces were deployed to Benghazi during the attack, Ham responded that after the initial assault on the U.S. special mission he believed the attack was finished.
However, his explanation may raise questions about his stated judgment that night, which turned out to be mortally off base. After the initial attack on the U.S. mission, there was a second round of deadly assaults against the nearby CIA annex, the location to which the victims of the first assaults were evacuated.
Further, even after the initial assault on the U.S. mission, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was still missing, as Ham stated, and so the deployment of a hostage rescue team may have been appropriate.
Asked why no forces were deployed to Benghazi after the initial assault, Ham told the Aspen Institute that “in my mind at that point, we were no longer in a response to an attack. We were in a recovery.”
Ham’s statement appears to contradict his next sentence.
“And frankly, I thought, we were in a potential hostage rescue situation, because the ambassador was unaccounted for,” he said. “So all the worst fears as a U.S. ambassador now held hostage.”
Ham stated that what they knew after the first assault “only was that there was some kind of attack.”
“We knew from the embassy in Tripoli how many people and who they were,” he said.
“Pretty shortly thereafter we knew that the ambassador and Mr. (Sean) Smith were unaccounted for. But we didn’t know much more than that.”
If Ham indeed believed Stevens was being held hostage, why was no force deployed to rescue him?
Further, questions may be asked as to how Ham could believe the attack was over after the initial assault on the U.S. Benghazi mission. Ham admitted earlier in his remarks that he possessed no intelligence indicating any specific terrorist attacks were planned for Benghazi on the night of the 9/11 anniversary. Therefore, how could he have known whether the initial assault was a standalone attack or part of a multipronged attack, as it turned out to be?
Special Forces only hours away
Ham is not the first U.S. official to admit EUCOM-CIF was stationed in Croatia the night of the attack but was not called upon to deploy to Benghazi.
As WND reported, in largely unreported remarks in June, Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that the highly trained Special Forces were on call.
In comments that may warrant further investigation, Dempsey further stated at a Senate hearing that on the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, command of EUCOM CIF was transferred from the military’s European command to Ham’s AFRICOM, or the United States Africa Command.
Dempsey did not state any reason for the unusual transfer of command nor could he provide a timeline for the transfer the night of the attack.
Also, Dempsey’s comments on the travel time between Croatia and Benghazi were incorrect.
His remarks for the first time confirmed an exclusive Fox News interview aired April 30 in which a special government operator, speaking on condition of anonymity, contradicted claims by the Obama administration and a State Department review that there wasn’t enough time for military forces to deploy the night of the attack.
“I know for a fact that C-110, the EUCOM CIF, was doing a training exercise in … not in the region of North Africa, but in Europe,” the special operator told Fox News’ Adam Housley. “And they had the ability to act and to respond.”
Fox News interview with whistleblower:
The operator told Fox News the C-110 forces were training in Croatia. Fox News reported the forces were stationed just three and a half hours away.
“We had the ability to load out, get on birds and fly there, at a minimum stage,” the operator told Fox News. “C-110 had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in a matter of about four hours … four to six hours.”
Dempsey was asked about Housley’s report by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis, at a senatorial hearing in June over Defense Department Budget requests.
Rep. Johnson questions Gen. Dempsey:
Dempsey confirmed the C-110 was indeed at a training exercise. At first he claimed the Special Forces were training in Bosnia and then later stated they were training in Croatia. But he did not explain the discrepancies in his statements about their location nor did he note the discrepancies.
“It (the C-110) was on a training mission in Bosnia, that is correct,” stated Dempsey.
Dempsey had been asked whether they were training in Croatia, not Bosnia.
In further remarks, he stated the forces were in Croatia.
Dempsey was asked whether he agreed with the Fox News timeline that the C-110 could deploy in four to six hours.
“No, I would not agree to that timeline,” he stated. “The travel time alone would have been more than that, and that is if they were sitting on the tarmac.”
Dempsey’s remarks are inaccurate. Even a large passenger jet can travel from the furthest point of Croatia to Benghazi in about two and a half hours or less.
Dempsey further stated the command of the C-110, or the EUCOM CIF, was transferred the night of the attack, but he didn’t explain why.
“There was a point at which the CIF was transitioned over into AFRICOM” from European command, he said.
He could not give a timeline of when the command was transferred, telling Johnson he would take the question for the record.
Asked whether the C-110 left Croatia that night, Dempsey stated, “They were told to begin preparations to leave Croatia and to return to their normal operating base” in Germany.
Dempsey’s statements confirmed the forces were not asked to deploy to Libya.
The whistleblower operator told Fox News the C-110 could have made a difference.
“They would have been there before the second attack,” he said. “They would have been there at a minimum to provide a quick reaction force that could facilitate their exfil out of the problem situation. Nobody knew how it was going to develop. And you hear a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of advisers say hey, we wouldn’t have sent them there because, you know, the security was unknown situation.”
Also, in his testimony, former deputy Libyan ambassador and whistleblower Gregory Hicks said he contacted AFRICOM the night of the attack but received no support.
Stated Hicks: “At about 10:45 or 11 we confer, and I asked the defense attache who had been talking about AFRICOM and with the joint staff, ‘Is anything coming? Will they be sending us any help? Is there something out there?’ And he answered that, the nearest help was in Aviano, the nearest – where there were fighter planes. He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get onsite, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel. And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and we went on with our work.”
Aviano, Italy, is 1,044 miles from Benghazi, about 100 miles further than the Croatian capital.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.