WASHINGTON — The Pentagon provided more details Friday of the military response to the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as questions continue to swirl ahead of the presidential election about the government’s response to the attack, detailing the troops that were dispatched to the region, even though most arrived after the fighting was over.
Although two teams of special operations forces were deployed from central Europe and the United States, the attack, which began after 9 p.m. local time and ended by about 6 a.m., was over before they arrived at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, across the Mediterranean from Libya.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said that after the attack began, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quickly met with his senior military advisers, including the top U.S. commander for Africa Command who was in Washington for meetings. Little said that within a few hours Panetta had ordered units to move to Libya.
“The entire U.S. government was operating from a cold start,” Little said.
He said the military units were prepared to respond to any number of contingencies, including a potential hostage situation.
The military also immediately moved an unarmed Predator surveillance drone to Benghazi airspace to provide real-time intelligence on the situation for the CIA officers on the ground who were fighting the militants.
The Pentagon comments came a day after senior U.S. intelligence officials detailed the CIA’s rescue efforts, striking back at allegations they failed to respond quickly or efficiently against the deadly attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Two of those Americans were ex-Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty, who initially were identified publicly as State Department contractors. But on Thursday, the intelligence officials said they were CIA contractors. Previously the agency had asked The Associated Press and other news organizations to avoid linking the men to the CIA because the officials claimed that doing so would endanger the lives of other security contractors working for other agencies around the world.