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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.