American heroes, American cowards
“All of them.”
That was the answer to a question we posed to each other over coffee at Mimi’s last week.
The question was, “How many of the Americans you know who have ever worn a military uniform would have volunteered to go into harm’s way to help our diplomats under attack in Benghazi?”
All of them.
All of the old fart veterans like me, and we think all who wear the uniform now, would rush to help, whatever the obstacles, whatever the consequences. Protecting American non-combatants from foreign aggression is our military’s highest duty.
So, what happened? Our armed forces did nothing while American diplomatic soil was overrun and four Americans were killed.
A few days ago Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta dismissed criticism that our armed forces did nothing while the White House, Pentagon and State Department observed the battle in real time, even while military assets were grounded in Italy and elsewhere within the theatre, assets that could have been scrambled in time to help.
Panetta said, “There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here. But the basic principle here ... is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”
Accordingly, Panetta and two high ranking commanders decided not to send in special ops teams, not to send close air support gunships, not to send ... anything.
American civilians, representatives of our government, were under lethal attack for seven hours, but our Secretary of Defense says we must first seek guarantees of the safety of our armed forces before we act? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
You don’t need combat experience to know instinctively that combat intel is rarely good, usually murky and often faulty. Combat is chaos, very risky, often with boldness trumping caution, especially where civilian lives are threatened. Special ops units stand by for the really ugly missions – perhaps like Benghazi.
But this time our government had the advantage of overhead eyes on the attack, real-time, with voice reports and pleas from the ground for help that never came. Not enough intel to act? What a breathtakingly pathetic excuse! Panetta is blowing smoke at you, America!
Ask a vet you know from any war if they would stand idly by knowing for hours our diplomats were under attack. They would not.
Greg Dunn of Fayetteville was an Infantry lieutenant in Vietnam in 1968 when the enemy arranged a cease-fire for their Tet New Year holiday, then attacked on that holiday all over the country. His commander told him of a small American unit pinned down in the bush, that Lt. Dunn needed to round up some volunteers to go get them.
Greg says he needed 40 grunts at most, but when he asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission, every one of them — about 100 grunts — immediately stepped up, volunteering to risk their lives for other grunts they did not know. They were ultimately able to bring the stranded troops back with just one wounded and one lost Jeep.
I have bored you with my own story of two guys risking their neck to rescue me when I was shot down in Vietnam in 1969. There are a million stories out there of American troops taking extraordinary risks in a struggle to bring each other home alive.
Imagine what our currently deployed troops must think of their commanders who did not order – and did not allow – rescue operations to commence while the Benghazi attack went on for seven hours.
Imagine the chagrin of Navy SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force or other highly trained Special Ops troops. In fact, we can compare the heroism of one of those guys to the cowardice of the high-level command.
When the attack was initiated, former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was a mile away in a CIA annex. He was not involved with the Embassy, the Consulate or the diplomatic mission in any way. Woods was a security contractor for a CIA project to track down large numbers of missing MANPADs, missiles even an uneducated man preoccupied with thoughts of Allah and herds of virgins can fire from his shoulder to bring down an airliner.
When Mr. Woods heard the gunfire and deduced what was under way, he radioed his higher-ups for clearance to go help and was told to “stand down,” which means no.
There was a second request and denial, but Woods and at least two others disobeyed orders and went to help at the burning Consulate anyway. They placed the lives of our diplomatic staff at a higher priority than their own safety, and their own job.
Our President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense could learn a few things from Mr. Woods.
Woods was able to maneuver 20-30 people out of the burning consulate and back to relative safety to the CIA annex a mile away. Imagine Mr. Woods’ frustration up on the roof, getting a laser fix on the enemy mortar site that was firing at them, asking for air support by radio and ... denied. In fact, that’s where Woods and others died, by a mortar round.
Another of those killed with Woods was also a former Navy SEAL, Glen Doherty, who arrived late in the fight with a few others, a poorly-armed contingent sent from Tripoli, about the same distance away as the air support assets never scrambled from a U.S. base in Sicily.
A highly regarded combat correspondent named Bing West, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs during the Reagan Administration, constructed a timeline of the event and concluded there was plenty of time to scramble forces from Sigonella, Sicily. He says fighter jets could have been on site in an hour. West calls our leadership response “... a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve,” a kind understatement if you ask me.
I would imagine every bomber and gunship crew, every special ops team within reach, is heartsick their considerable talent and firepower was held in abeyance, not unleashed, while our diplomatic mission was violated with impunity and our people killed. I don’t blame them; they can’t act without orders and that is as it should be.
But I will tell you my personal thoughts of our top leadership. I am speculating here but I would guess the decision to hold our forces instead of unleashing them was politically motivated to take no chances of combat casualties so close to the election.
I would guess that decision came from Obama, and the spin machine surrounding him, including Panetta, has been trying to cover it ever since.
If the truth ever comes out, we’ll see whether I am wrong, but I’m willing to bet anyone a cup of coffee.
Truth might emerge if one of the shiny-starred generals or admirals has a hard time looking in the mirror to shave and decides his remaining career is not as important as revealing that our Oval Office is occupied by a worm.
Meanwhile, this national shame smells worse than Watergate. Too bad we didn’t have Tyrone Woods in the Oval Office to decide what is right, not what would cover the president’s hiney and make him look good.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]