BY PAUL BEDARD
September 3, 2013
Just minutes after 35 jihadists crashed through the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, nearly one year ago, the facility got word to the State Department, FBI and Pentagon that terrorists were attacking, according to a forthcoming book that provides the fullest review of the assault to date.
In “Under Fire, the Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi,” it is revealed that an unidentified security official in the Benghazi compound protecting Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens messaged the U.S. embassy in Tripoli: “Benghazi under fire, terrorist attack.” Stevens and three others died that night.
Twenty-five minutes after it began, the operation center at State received an electronic cable announcing the attack, according to authors Fred Burton, a former State Diplomatic Security agent and Samuel Katz, an author and expert on international special operations and counterterrorism.
Their findings in "Under Fire," based on exclusive interviews of those in the battle, refute days of claims by the administration that the attack was sparked by Muslim anger at a U.S.-made anti-Muslim film, and raise new questions as President Obama eyes military action in Syria that U.S. diplomatic posts in the region are properly protected.
The authors note that at the time of the attack in Benghazi there were riots against U.S. embassies in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere related to the film, “Innocence of Muslims.” That could have been the cause of initial confusion about the attackers, but the eyewitness accounts by State and CIA agents in the battle — backed by live video feeds from drones — should have erased any doubt.
“Benghazi was a malignant symptom,” they wrote, “of a weakened and crippled al Qaeda seeking new battlefields.” They added that the September 11, 2012 attack, exactly 11 years after after al Qaeda’s assault on America, was “to be an opening salvo of a new jihad on the African continent.”
Also revealed for the first time: On her last day as secretary of State, Hillary Clinton summoned four of the five Diplomatic Security agents involved in the Benghazi attack to present them with State’s “Award for Heroism.”
Under Fire, while an unbiased timeline about the heroism of the Diplomatic Security agents, is sure to stoke more criticism of the administration’s handling of the politically-embarrassing attack. It provides a wealth of information that paints a night-long war at the poorly secured consulate and CIA annex that could not be mistaken for anything but a planned terrorist attack by men in vehicles displaying “the black flag of the jihad” and armed with AK-47s and rocket launchers.
It gives details of what drones controlled far from Benghazi flown over the two installations saw — armed attackers, not movie protesters. Sources told Katz and Burton that Images of mortar fire from a Predator drone left operators that night believing that the attackers were “Libyan military veterans of veterans of the jihadist campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or Derna.”
It also gives the harrowing story of the firefight faced by those who escaped the compound and the two terrorist attacks that night on the CIA’s annex in Benghazi a mile from the diplomatic compound. “Their advance and assault were methodical,” the authors wrote of the terrorists.
The book reveals that none of America’s allies in the city provided any help. Many in the neighborhood watched the U.S. facility burn, some filming it on their cellular phones. Italy’s top diplomat “allegedly watched the attack unfold from his vantage point, a reserved table at the Venezia Cafe.”
It concludes: “So much about the night just didn’t make sense, but one question everyone was asking was, ‘Where were the good guys?’ Two and a half hours of war had been waged in the city of Benghazi and everyone in the know — and many who weren’t — were aware that the U.S. presence in the city was under full-scale attack. There were no cavalry charge of men in white hats eager to save the day and rescue the besieged American positions. None of the militias — not even the one on the State Department payroll — had mobilized their forces to mount a large-scale and deterring show of force.”
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.