Top U.S. General: Benghazi Threats Were Not Unique

Gen. Martin Dempsey says there are 'intelligence gaps' for U.S. in North Africa.

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Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watches as Leon Panetta overturns the ban on allowing women in combat.

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Threats that existed in Benghazi before Sept. 11, 2012 were not unique, the U.S. military's top general said Thursday, adding the State Department did not ask for the specific military assistance that would have raised a red flag.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a testy exchange with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday regarding the attack that left four Americans dead. McCain called Dempsey's statements "bizarre" and chastised him for not responding faster with military force.

"Our [military] posture was not there because we did not take into account the threats," McCain said. "That's why four Americans died."

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"I stand by my testimony, your dispute of it nonwithstanding," Dempsey replied. "We never received a request of support from the State Department."

The potential for an attack on the State Department's facility in Benghazi equaled threats elsewhere in the world, Dempsey said, including in Khartoum, Kabul, Baghdad, and in Sana'a, Yemen. The Pentagon did not receive any specific requests from the State Department to provide additional security in the North African country where militants attacked a compound and nearby CIA annex.

During the hearing, senators referenced a poster board listing all of the attacks that had taken place against international organizations in Benghazi in the months before Sept. 11, including assaults on the British and United Nations presence.

"We base our response on the combined effects of what we get from the intelligence communities…as well, importantly, based on what we get from the State Department," Dempsey said.

Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss later asked Dempsey if he knew of any other diplomatic facility in the world that faced the same kinds of threats as Benghazi prior to the attack.

"I do, senator. This was not a unique situation," Dempsey said, pointing notably to Yemen where there is "a constant threat stream against the ambassador, personally."

There is a Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team stationed in Yemen at the behest of the State Department, he said.

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Chambliss asked Dempsey and Leon Panetta, the outgoing Defense secretary who was also testifying, if they thought an intelligence failure caused the Benghazi attack.

"Some of the initial assessments here were not on the money," Panetta said, in what will likely be his last testimony before the committee. "Some of the initial assessments were made, they should have taken more time to assess the full situation of what had taken place."

Dempsey also said there was an "intelligence gap."

There are two false assumptions that work against a Pentagon response, he added. One is that the military can be as responsive as necessary, and this is not always the case, he said. The other is that the military is "all-seeing and all-knowing."

"There are some places on the planet where we have some gaps. I think North Africa is one of them," Dempsey said.

"I take this as a very weak response to the incident," Chambliss said, calling Dempsey's responses "inadequate" and comparable to the inadequacy of the security Dempsey provided.

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