February 12, 2014
The U.S. military had a multitude of forces in the region surrounding Libya when terrorists attacked the Special Mission in Benghazi and murdered four Americans, according to an unclassified Navy map obtained by Judicial Watch this week.
The map features the Navy fleet positions in the North Africa Area of Responsibility (AOR) on September 11, 2012, the day Islamic jihadists raided the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the first diplomat to be killed overseas in decades, and three other Americans were murdered in the violent ambush.
Dozens of vessels were stationed in the region on that day, including two aircraft carriers (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Enterprise), four amphibious ships, 13 destroyers, three cruisers and more than a dozen other smaller Navy boats as well as a command ship. Carriers are warships, the powerhouse of the naval fleet with a full-length flight deck for aircraft operations. During the Benghazi attack, two carriers were based to the east in the Arabian Sea, the Navy map shows.
Two amphibious assault ships (Iwo Jima and Gunston Hill) were situated to the east in the Gulf of Oman and one (New York) was in the Gulf of Aden, the map shows. A fourth (Fort McHenry) was located on the west side of the African continent in the Atlantic Ocean. Amphibious ships resemble small aircraft carriers and have air-craft strips for vertical and short take-offs and landings. The destroyers are scattered throughout the region, but the closest appear to be four (Cole, Forrest Sherman, Jason Dunham and Aboon) in the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya. The rest of the fleet includes cruisers, minesweepers, patrols and a command ship.
The map was provided to Judicial Watch by retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Randall R. Schmidt, who is investigating how the military responded to the Benghazi attack. Schmidt flew jet fighters during his active duty and says there’s no reason the military could not have efficiently responded in Benghazi. Schmidt got the map after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Navy asking it to identify the location of all its assets in the region on September 11, 2012.
In a letter attached to the map, the Navy writes that the Iwo Jima was the closest large amphibious ship to Benghazi on that day, but fails to mention the exact distance. The letter does mention that the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier that appears on the map to be the closest to Libya, was located approximately 3,350 nautical miles from Benghazi. “Assuming a 20 knot transit speed and no Suez Canal delays, the transit would take approximately 168 hours or seven days,” the Navy says in the letter to Schmidt. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower “would require additional transit time from its position in the Arabian Gulf,” the letter further states.
“Destroyers could have responded to the attack,” Schmidt said adding that the military also has “rapid reaction forces” in the region as well as “armed predators.” Air craft could have also been deployed, according to Schmidt, but the Department of Defense (DOD) has refused his requests for records involving the air fleet on that day. “The point is there were enough forces to respond,” Schmidt says.
Coincidentally, a congressional report released this week explores the DOD reaction to the attack. Published by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the report says that the military’s response was “severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces…” The panel also attributes the weak military response to a “lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding.”
Nevertheless the committee blasts military commanders for not taking “all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.” It also chastises White House officials for ignoring the “dramatically deteriorating security situation in Libya and the growing threat to U.S. interests in the region.” As a result U.S. personnel in Benghazi were woefully vulnerable because the Obama administration didn’t “direct a change in military force posture,” the new report states.
Judicial Watch has been a leader in investigating the Benghazi terrorist attack and has published two in-depth reports on the deadly raid. Read them here and here. JW has a number of pending lawsuits and public-records requests related to the incident and it was JW that obtained the first photos depicting the devastating aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA facilities in Benghazi as well as details of the inexperienced foreign company hired to protect the American compound. The State Department paid the virtually unknown British firm $794,264 for nearly 50,000 guard hours, according to the records obtained in the course of JW’s ongoing Benghazi probe.