By Billy Birdzell
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 2013, Fox News aired an interview with a supposed member of U.S. Special Operations Command who said that members of "C-110," who were training in Croatia on September 11, 2012, could have both arrived at the Benghazi consulate in 4-6 hours and arrived before the second attack on the annex during which Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty were killed. The mystery man critiques the Obama administration's decision-making, yet offers no information as to how C-110 would have influenced the battle in such a way that the outcome would have been different. Perhaps because it was actually impossible for C-110 to arrive before the attack, and if they did, they would not have been able to do anything that would have prevented our heroes, Woods and Doherty, from being killed.
"C-110" stands for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. It is a unique company within the 10th SF Group in that it is trained as a Commander's in-Extremis Force (CIF). Each of the five active duty SF Groups has a CIF and they respond to important threats within their geographic area which are below the threshold for, or availability of, elements from the Joint Special Operations Command (like the Delta Force). A CIF has approximately 40 operators.
According to the Pentagon timeline posted by CNN, the enemy attack began at 2142 and all US personnel were out of the consulate by 2330. By 2330, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the foreign service information officer, Sean Smith, were dead. President Obama was briefed at 2300 and SOF were approved to launch from Croatia (C-110) and the United States (Delta Force) at 0239 and 0253 respectively. At 0515, the attack began against the annex. Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire shortly thereafter.
Obama gave the launch order at 0239. The mystery operator said 4-6 hours. That's 0639-0839. Woods and Doherty died at 0515. An Air Force C-17 was evacuating personnel from the Benghazi airport at 0740. Mystery man and Fox News can't add. Strike one.
For argument's sake, assume Obama gave the launch order 10 minutes after he met with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta at 2300. Four to six hours turns into 0310-0510. Six hours, however, would have been impossible.
If the Commander of European Command coordinated with his counterpart in Africa Command as soon as the National Command Center informed General Dempsey at 2230 and they diverted a C-17 to Croatia in anticipation, it is still highly unlikely the plane would have been on the ground in Croatia before midnight; it takes an hour to fly to Croatia from Germany and a crew would have had to have gotten ready, briefed, examined contingency plans, and fueled the plane. From Zaton Military Airport in Croatia, it is over 900 miles to Benghazi, which would have taken approximately two hours in a C-17 cargo plane. Zaton is on the coast and it more likely the CIF would have flown out of Udbina Airport, but this is a best case scenario.
Assuming the Air Force was willing to land a C-17 at the Benghazi airport with an unknown security situation, once on the ground, the 40-man CIF would have then had to have moved to the annex which was 30 km away. Moving such a far distance would have required vehicles. 40 operators can move in 8 HMMWVs, which can fit into one C-17. However, did they have the vehicles with them? Did they have everything on the training mission that they needed to go into combat? If not, it would have taken more time for someone to get everything ready. Maybe the man of mystery is creative and planned on renting cars from Avis (yes, Avis has a location at the Benghazi Airport) and using stealth to get to the consulate in a move akin to the French using taxis to get to the front in order to stop the Kaiser's hordes back in 1914. Mystery man is really a cook who has never been on a deployment. Strike two.
Even if one of them had Avis First and the cars were waiting on the runway, the timing would have been iffy. Parachuting would have been another option. There is a large, open field close to the U.S. consulate at the southwest intersection of Third Ring Road and Shan Al-Andulus Road that could have accommodated the CIF. However, one is defenseless while parachuting, so it is a good idea to insert a good distance from the action to ensure one is not shot before his boots hit the ground. The Benghazi Zoo is only 3 miles from the consulate and the combination of trees and animal cages would have provided good cover, as well as entertainment, in case someone saw 40 people parachuting into the middle of the city.
Assuming magical planes were waiting for the CIF and they were somehow able to physically get to the annex before 0515, mystery man failed to mention that Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire. Forty operators armed with rifles and light-machine guns can neither stop mortar rounds nor determine from where the mortar is being fired. The only thing the CIF would have done had they gotten to the annex before 0515 is created more targets and overcrowded the consulate.
Even if the CIF was on ready 5 (fully armed, sitting in the aircraft with pilots at the controls) in Sigonella (the closest European base to Benghazi) with advanced warning of an attack but unsure of the time, and they launched at 2232 on only-in-Hollywood orders from someone other than the president, they would not have been able to do anything about Stevens and Smith's deaths, nor stopped the mortar rounds. Strike three.
The person in the interview is a clown and I am incredibly disappointed in the news for not using Google.
Billy Birdzell served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and special operations team leader from 2001 to 2009. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in security studies at Georgetown University.
Not from what I am hearing ‘round the barnyard. Here's an example, from retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, on the record and everything, about Fox's ‘scoop' saying SF could have responded to Benghazi in time:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
By Commander H.B. Le, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 1975, a 34 year-old South Vietnamese Navy commander -- the commanding officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base near Saigon -- navigated a small fishing trawler towards the South China Sea. Saigon had just fallen, and the trawler, crowded with 200 refugees, cautiously weaved its way down the Soi Rap River. In the span of just a few hours, as other refugees were plucked from smaller or sinking boats, the passengers had swelled to 400. After two uncertain days at sea and on the first birthday of the commander's youngest child, the refugees were taken on board the tank landing ship USS Barbour County (LST 1195).
On November 7, 2009, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet's flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), my ship arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a scheduled goodwill port visit. This visit was my first return to Vietnam since my father, mother, and three of my seven siblings and I departed in that fishing trawler. My father had navigated the trawler to sea, and, for me, navigating USS Lassen (DDG 82) into Da Nang Harbor brought me full circle to our past.
During that unforgettable port visit, I was interviewed by local and international news media. Most questions dealt with my thoughts on returning to my native country. Like my siblings who had come to America in 1975, I have always felt fortunate to grow up in the United States and to enjoy all the opportunities this great nation offers. It was a privilege for my sailors and me to represent USS Lassen and the U.S. Navy to the people of Vietnam.
It was also deeply moving for me to travel to my birthplace of Hue, joined by one of my older brothers who had graciously flown from Singapore, where he worked. Hue is just 50 miles northwest of Da Nang, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours reuniting with two aunts, an uncle, and extended family members.
Throughout the port visit and for several days afterwards, I received heartwarming e-mails and notes from family and friends, as well as from people I did not know. Easily the most remarkable was a short letter I received in the ship's mail on November 18, eight days after USS Lassen departed Da Nang Harbor:
USS Lassen (DDG 82)
FPO AP 96671-1299
November 6, 2009
Congratulations on your command. I read with interest the press release about your visit to your homeland. I was the Executive Officer of the USS Barbour County (LST 1195) at the time of your rescue. I have wondered throughout the years what became of the myriad people we took on board and transported to the Philippines (Grandy Island). Again, congratulations and enjoy your tour.
Russ Bell CDR, USN (Retired)
I was thrilled when I read the letter and e-mailed my father right away. He wrote in response from his home in Virginia:
We finally have the opportunity to express our gratitude to one of the people who saved us and gave us a new beginning in the United States of America. Would you please send our thanks to CDR Russ Bell and his crew for helping and saving us at sea on May 2nd, 1975 and bringing us to Freedom? I still remember that on the 3rd of May, the XO was the one who gave me an envelope and then helped to send my letter from the Barbour County to Uncle Ed Rowe at his parents' address in Kansas City, MO. It comes back to my memory very clearly now, just like it happened yesterday! God bless the crew of USS Barbour County and their families. God bless the U.S.A.
Today on behalf of my family, I wish to thank Commander Russ Bell, U.S. Navy (Retired) and the crew of USS Barbour County. Also, thank you to Uncle Ed -- Colonel Ed Rowe, U.S Army (Retired) -- and his wonderful family for sponsoring us all those years ago... and happy 39th birthday to my dear brother, Phil.
Commander Hung Ba Le was the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) from April 2009 to December 2010. One of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, Lassen's namesake is Commander Clyde E. Lassen, who received the Medal of Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam. Commander Le is currently serving as a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in Cambridge, MA.
By Emma Sky
Best Defense bureau chief, Iraq
The famous Iraqi sociologist, Ali Wardi, wrote about the dual personalities of Iraqis. For many of us who served in Iraq, this is something we also seem to have developed.
I spent the weekend in Texas, staying with American friends I served with in Iraq. Although we had not seen each other in years, conversation came easily. Our shared experiences away at war had created life-long bonds. We reminisced about our time together -- the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, our small victories. We laughed. We drank. We ate unhealthy fast food. We gossiped about people we knew. Together, we visited the memorial at Fort Hood to pay our respects to the 450 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division killed in Iraq.
But all weekend I also surfed the Internet for news and chatted with Iraqi friends. Iraq is spiraling out of control. Following the arrests in December of the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, Sunnis took to the streets, revealing their widespread sense of alienation in the new Iraq and demanding the end of what they consider a government policy to marginalize them. As with other protests in the Arab world, they were initially driven by legitimate grievances. But against the backdrop of provincial elections, little was done to address the concerns of the protestors -- despite calls to do so from the top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Politicians instead exploited the demonstrations for electoral gains. President Maliki took the opportunity to distract attention away from the lack of services and rampant corruption, presenting himself as the defender of the Shia, in the face of Sunni regional powers intent on overthrowing Shia regimes -- Syria first, then Iraq. Sunni politicians, for their part, sought to benefit from the demonstrations to rail against government oppression to gain support for their own electoral campaigns.
Last week, the Iraqi Army entered Hawija, near Kirkuk, to arrest people accused of attacking Iraqi Security Forces. In the ensuing violence, 200 people were killed. There are reports of desertions from the Iraqi Army. Kurds have moved peshmerga into positions in the disputed territories. Tribes are forming militias to protect themselves from the Iraqi Army. Five Iraqi soldiers were killed in Anbar -- and the province has been put under curfew. Ten satellite channels, including al-Jazeera, have been banned, accused of spreading sectarianism. Bombs exploded in Shia towns. The speaker of parliament called for the government to resign and for early elections.
By seeking to eliminate his Sunni rivals, Maliki has removed the wedge that the U.S. military drove between Sunni extremists and the Sunni mainstream during the Surge, at such great cost. There is a growing sense that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are merging into one, with Shia regimes, backed by Iran, battling against Sunnis, including al Qaeda elements. We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WW I settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Many Iraqis still cannot fathom how the United States could lose interest in Iraq and simply walk away after so much investment. They explain it in terms of conspiracy theories: a "secret agreement" between the United States and Iran; a "deal" between Biden and Maliki to divide up Iraq.
Will our legacy from the Iraq war be a regional power struggle ignited by the resurgence of Iran, the contagion of sectarianism into Syria, the horrific violence of jihadist groups? Is this in our national interest? Can we not do more to make Iraq a more positive influence in its neighborhood?
As the situation deteriorates, I wonder, will the United States proactively develop, articulate, and adopt strategies to engender a better balance of power in the region -- or reactively respond to the inevitable fallout with tactical measures.
Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute. She served in Iraq 2003-2004 as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 2007-2010 as the political advisor to General Odierno.
Lady Emma Sky
By Col. Margaret Cope, USAF (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
After serving 30 years in the Air Force, I am passionate about our country providing the opportunity for young men and women to serve. Since the draft ended, the American public has become disconnected from the men and women in the military.
Even our former secretary of defense Robert Gates stated that our citizens view our wars as an "abstraction" that does not affect them personally. After 9/11 our country missed an enormous opportunity to engage the citizenry, particularly folks in the 18-26 age range who are beginning their adult lives and have the ability to contribute the rest of their lives.
Our country has a democratic form of government, which by definition is a participatory government, not a spectator government. All citizens must be engaged or we risk losing our democracy. Our founding fathers believed all would participate as stated by George Washington, "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it."
Currently less than 1 percent of Americans serve in our military. The rest of the population -- 99 percent, for the most part -- is unaware of the military. Although other forms of national service exist, with the budget constraints, now is the time to consolidate and provide more structured, safer, and meaningful opportunities.
My concept of the national service framework is comprehensive and bold; it's not for those who like small steps and fear transformative, big ideas. National Service will be voluntary and must include the military -- the most committed, professional, well-trained example of national service.
This framework is based on voluntary participation and provides a menu of opportunities for citizens between the ages of 18-26 to serve. All volunteers will serve a minimum of two years and will receive lodging, uniforms, healthcare and food allowances, stipends, and upon completion of their term of service, numerous government incentives tied to performance, to include at least an education debt reduction or an education allowance similar to the GI Bill and other options to support the national service mission, its culture. Libertarians who don't want to serve would be ineligible for some government incentives including student loans, to be given upon completion of the term of service.
National Service will be the umbrella organization for the entire enterprise with the pillars being: the military, which would include recruitment, orientation training, and upon completion of service, the same national service benefits along with military benefits; the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) organizations including Americorps, VISTA, Equal Justice Works, Teach for America, and Children's Corps; the Peace Corps; a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps; a medical corps; a legal corps (move Equal Justice Works from CNCS); an administrative corps; a cybersecurity corps; and others. All of these functions could support our military and serve on military reservations.
As a nation, we cannot underestimate the importance in a moral democracy to serve. We must engage our greatest resource, our young citizens, to serve others and uphold our democratic principles to attain opportunity and inspire hope.
Margaret Cope, a retired U.S. Air Force logistics colonel, serves on the Executive Committee at the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), consults, and is a former senior advisor at the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR).
By Brig. Gen. Kim Field, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
As a general officer and a mother of four sons, I still look back on our entry into the Iraq War with disbelief. There may have been good reason, but explanations to date satisfy almost no one. I deployed three times to Afghanistan and better understood our entry, even if the prosecution of our effort became increasingly baffling. I am dismayed that my sons are learning in school to lump the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same causal bucket. What are they learning about who America is, what we stand for, why we do what we do?
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the split in the Republican Party on the appropriate foreign policy stance for America. To oversimplify, isolationists are warring with the traditional aggressive foreign policy advocates under the same tent. Further, the article was a bit shocking in that foreign policy was equated with use of the military instrument. How can any of this be?
The Democratic Party is a little more coherent, but I am not sure that there is agreement with Jimmy Carter's statement: "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Right or wrong, under Democratic leadership, we have done almost nothing in Syria to protect human rights. Is "human rights" the most important thing to our country and is this how we should represent ourselves to the world?
Inside the Pentagon, I watch and in some cases participate as we wrangle over the "rebalance to the Pacific." Should the military really be the agency doing the most in what was a reasonable shift in strategic emphasis? Maybe, but the explanations why are not satisfying and Air-Sea Battle is downright mystifying. Do we intend to "contain" China, and if so, do we mean militarily, economically, in the information domain? Or do we want to "shape her decisions?" Something else? These are very different paths with significant consequence, and to my mind, we should have the answers before we charge off, possibly committing billions of dollars.
What do we stand for? Many of us think domestic policies are likely on an inevitable path toward a more European model of capitalism-social consciousness and think our choices with regard to international matters are indeed more free and more significant. But watching the machinations of the Congress over forced across-the-board cuts (sequestration), feeling confident that DOD could take a cut but not the way we are forced to do it, it is clear that this problem of identity is foundational to all dimensions of what we do as a country.
As a soldier, I have nothing to say about wither our foreign policy endeavors. But I sure wish I understood better what we could be asked to do and why. How is the military to represent itself overseas when our muddled sense of American identity is reflected in so many testy issues, beyond the normal and healthy tensions of party politics?
Having taught international relations theory for three years, I do believe when the strength of our values coincides with the level of our national interest, we have the makings of good, sustainable foreign interventions. But this means understanding what our values are, who we are as Americans. Do we still believe in American exceptionalism? If so, why? What makes us exceptional a decade into the 21st century? We should be specific and clear about this in a necessary debate.
Just as senior military officers should be professionally guided by the conviction of clear personal values and not just the Army Values dogtag around their necks, it is insufficient for the collective American people to point to the Constitution as a clear, present day expression of who we are. The base case is there, but it's not always helpful in execution. Sacrilege.
It will be very difficult to avoid diving into the issues of immigration and healthcare and countless other issues through which party divides run deep. And a Congress that makes DOD accept compensations it doesn't ask for even when that means we reduce the training that will keep soldiers alive in the future, a Congress that makes us buy equipment we don't want beyond that which keeps the industrial base warm, can't lead this effort. The Congress is full of smart, well-intentioned individuals held captive by a system that cannot help us produce a sense of identity that would then enable meaningful party debates over how to make that identity come alive. The president is a party member. He can't lead this either, no matter how good a leader he is.
I believe the American people want this discussion. I do not believe the military has the market on service. I do not believe the average American values his or her Nikes and iPhones more than they do a conversation over what it means to be an American. My sister-teacher, as well as good friends Paul Yingling and John Nagl, who have chosen to leave the world of security affairs for the profession of teaching, will be part of this debate, as will their students. My father and his senior friends who have time, interest, and continued desire to serve, will be part of this. My boys and nieces and their classmates, all of whom had to complete community service on the path to college, will be part of this. Servicemembers will be part of this as long as the issues do not become partisan. And so many more from so many other walks of American life. I am tired of hearing that Americans need the most important of issues dumbed down, that we simply don't care about anything that does not directly affect the material goods that come into our homes. I don't believe it. In fact, I can't even contemplate the possibility of leaving my boys without a mother for years, or forever, if this were the case.
I am so honored to serve the way I do -- representing a people that comprise a country of goodness the world has never before seen. We have to stop the recent wandering that has confused so many inside our ranks, within our borders, and throughout the world. As we bring the face of America home after 12 years of steady war and before we inevitably send it out again, greater clarity on the question, "who are we, we Americans?" is essential.
BG Kim Field is deputy director of policy, plans and strategy on the Army staff. She has served three tours in Afghanistan, two tours with State, and taught international relations in the "Sosh" Department at West Point.
By Nick Francona
Best Defense guest columnist
After reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's article about the Sept 14, 2012, attack on Camp Bastion/Leatherneck, I wanted to respond to comments made by Maj. Gen. Gurganus.
There is an apparent attitude that this attack occurred because of a failure of British and Tongan troops to secure their side of the perimeter near the Bastion airfield. It may well be true that Tongan troops would sleep on post, however, this does not excuse Marine commanders from inspecting and enforcing rigid standards. Force protection is the responsibility of the commander and because Maj. Gen. Gurganus had hundreds of troops stationed on the Bastion side of the base, he is responsible for overseeing a solid plan to protect his Marines and his aircraft. It is unacceptable and beneath a Marine general to chalk this up to a Tongan failure.
I have spent time at Leatherneck and Bastion as a transient, on the way in and out of parts of rural Helmand. It was obvious to even a casual observer that many of the posts were unmanned and were comically left with a "green Ivan" silhouette target as a half-hearted attempt at deterrence. The fact that there was dead-space around the largest U.S. military installation in the province is a fundamental failure and simply unacceptable. Additionally, it was widely known that there were issues with undocumented TCNs (third-country nationals) on the base that represented a major counterintelligence challenge. It was naive to think that the enemy would be unaware of the existence of unmanned towers.
From the article:
"You can't defend everywhere every day," Gurganus said in response to a question about the attack. "You base your security on the threat you've got." He said the Taliban caught "a lucky break."
"When you're fighting a war, the enemy gets a vote," he said.
While it is indeed impossible to mitigate all risks, even on large bases, I vehemently disagree with Maj. Gen. Gurganus' assertion that you can't defend everywhere every day in this context. It is indeed understandable to have VBIED and suicide bomber incidents at entry control points (ECPs) of bases, but it is another story entirely to have a dismounted assault penetrate your perimeter and stroll onto your airfield. His claim that you base your security on the threat you've got is the root cause for the environment of complacency that enabled this tragic event to occur. His statement about the enemy getting a vote is absurd in this context. Indeed the enemy does get a vote, but so do you, especially when it comes to defending nearly all Marine aviation assets in the region and a large concentration of personnel. Precisely because the enemy gets a vote, he has an obligation to anticipate and counter the enemy, and act like it is a war zone and actively defend his men and assets. The enemy's "vote" is not akin to a hall pass to stroll onto the base.
The most offensive of his statements is coining the attack a lucky break. The attack only occurred because of an egregious failure in basic infantry practices. The enemy may have been lucky to exploit these failures, but neglect was the precondition that set the stages for this attack. Intelligence analysts should not have to issue a warning of an impending frontal assault on a major military base for the base to be prepared.
There is an appalling lack of accountability and introspection that is evident in Maj. Gen. Gurganus' comments about this incident. It is painfully obvious that this attack would not have been successful, or likely even attempted, if not for multiple security failures at Leatherneck/Bastion. This single episode highlights a much larger problem of accountability in the Marine Corps. It is nearly impossible to get fired for incompetence.
We need to stop treating the Marine Corps like a teachers union and demand excellence and accountability from our officer corps.
A friend writes that he "smells a rat" in the recent relief of the commander of the Marine Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia.
"You are responsible for what goes on inside your unit," the Marine commandant said in explaining the removal of Col. Stillings. "Period."
Oh? wonders my friend. If that is the standard, he notes, it begs the question of why there has not been a Marine general relieved in many moons. On General Amos' watch as commandant, he observes, "the Marine Corps has seen Marines urinating on Taliban bodies, scout snipers posing with an SS flag, a sexual assault pandemic that the Commandant himself has described as ‘incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment,' rising suicide rates, the catastrophic Camp Bastion attack, and the hazing-cum-suicide of Lance Corporal Harry Lew." So, he asks, "If 2.5 bad happenings were enough to soul-crush Colonel Stillings, what is the magic number which would cause a service chief to resign?"
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.