While the State Department waits for a review board to determine how attackers were allowed to kill four Americans in Libya, and following a new timeline of events from the CIA, an expert in the kinds of operations that kept many more from dying in Benghazi dismisses much of the resulting criticism.
Interagency bureaucracy may have prevented forces in Benghazi from relaying their situation to the CIA or Pentagon, but the attack did not last long enough for Washington to have been able to do anything, says Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL and special operations sniper course manager.
The CIA released a prepared statement Thursday with a more detailed timeline of events, according to the Washington Post, showing rescue efforts took place over only a few hours.
Webb, now editor-in-chief of SOFREP.com, says efforts of the special operations team that responded to the consulate compound are more important that bureaucratic criticism.
"Any time you have State, CIA and other agencies, and its not an established theater, that's part of the problem itself," he says. Communication in an attack like this may have been coordinated more fluently in Afghanistan or Iraq, he says, where established military forces are well versed in their chain of command.
"By the nature of the work they do, these intelligence groups are totally compartmentalized, and that creates a complication," he says. "By nature, CIA doesn't share information with [the Department of Defense]. For military support, it would have been a while before they could figure out what was going on."
In spite of this, the CIA responders were able to get to the U.S. compound in Benghazi within 25 minutes after the attack, at roughly 9:40 p.m., according to a new CIA statement reported by the Post. This statement offers the most detailed timeline of events since the Sept. 11 attack.
"There was no second-guessing those decisions being made on the ground, by people at every U.S. organization that could play a role in assisting those in danger," said a senior U.S. intelligence official according to the prepared statement.
Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama for indicating the attack may have been caused by a protest over a YouTube film that criticized Islam. The president subsequently said this was a terrorist attack.
This new assessment says the information coming out of Benghazi during the attack was fragmentary and often contradictory, and the initial information sent to Congress and the White House did not contain conclusions of potential links between the attackers and al Qaeda.
A source familiar with U.S. presence in Libya tells U.S. News the Benghazi attack may have been retribution for prior special operations missions there. The source asked to remain anonymous.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and computer expert Sean Smith were already dead before the response team could do anything, Webb points out, adding much of the resulting coverage has not focused on who is still alive.
"It's pretty amazing that a small group of former and active Special Operations personnel were able to successfully rescue what was likely up to 50 people and get sensitive materials out of the other compound," Webb says of the rescue efforts and retreat to the CIA annex nearby at roughly 11 p.m.
"They did this with limited resources and under austere circumstances," he says. "The CIA, and those operators should be commended for this."
After sustaining waves of mortar attacks, another team was able to secure transportation to a nearby airport, and with Libyan security elements, help rescue survivors at 5:15 a.m.
News agencies, including a scathing Fox News assessment, point to readily available resources that the U.S. government chose not to deploy to help Americans on the ground.
However, there would be no motivation for the CIA, the Department of Defense, the State Department or the White House to withhold these resources, Webb says, aside from first establishing what was actually happening on the ground.
"It wouldn't have been, 'Don't go help,'" he says. "It very likely would have been, 'Hold tight, we need to figure out what's going on.'"
After the rescue group retreated from the consulate to the CIA annex, a security officer on the roof pointed a laser indicator at a rebel mortar team that was shelling the building, a CIA source told Fox News. These mortar rounds eventually killed former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
A Spectre gunship could have used the operator's targeting to take out the mortar team, employing a common tactic with special operations troops, the source says, if the Pentagon or CIA had chosed to deploy it.
But this engagement at the CIA annex would have been far within "danger close" parameters, Webb says, referencing the zone within 600 meters of friendly troops into which only the most experienced air combat controllers can direct aerial strikes. Given the description of the attack, the mortar team must have been within a few hundred feet, he says, and among many noncombatants.
He also dismisses any claims that balking at support was a political maneuver due to the upcoming presidential election.
"Anyone in the chain of command would have had no issue stomping out this fire, and getting those Americans out of Libya," he says.
Sources familiar with embassy security tell U.S. News the Benghazi compound was not a protected diplomatic mission like most U.S. installations worldwide. It did not, for example, have the roof hatch that could have allowed Stevens and the other Americans to escape. These have been standard issue on all diplomatic compounds since a group of militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979.
Learn more about the current state of embassy security here.
Ahead of the State Department conclusions, Webb says both communications and security could have been better.
"That's always been an issue," he says.
The State Department declined to comment, pending the independent board investigation findings.
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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.