The U.S. mission in Beghazi: The day after (Photo: Reuters)
By Clare Lopez:
Data points continue to accumulate about the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. The picture that is beginning to emerge from connecting those dots is deeply concerning on multiple levels. Two related issues dominate this analysis: The systematic stripping of security protection from the Benghazi mission prior to the 9/11 anniversary attack and the cold-blooded refusal to send or even permit local help the night of the attack.
As Fox News Bureau Chief of Intelligence Catherine Herridge suggested on the “Mike Huckabee” show on Oct. 27, both of these critical subjects may have been driven by a perceived need to cover up the likely purpose for the existence of that mission in the first place, i.e., to serve as a U.S. command hub for the movement of weapons out of Libya to Syrian rebels fighting to bring down the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
It has now been established through the persistent work of Congressional leadership figures and such investigative journalists, media and talk show hosts as the Fox News network, the Glenn Beck show, Michael Coren at Canada’s Sun News, Aaron Klein at World Net Daily and Diana West that the Benghazi mission played a central role in a U.S. government policy of “engaging, legitimating, enriching and emboldening Islamists who have taken over or are ascendant in much of the Middle East,” as Center for Security Policy president, Frank Gaffney, put it.
According to media reporting, Benghazi was staffed by CIA operatives whose job may have been not just to secure and destroy dangerous weapons (like RPGs and SAMs) looted from former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles during and after the 2011 revolution, but also perhaps to facilitate their onward shipment to the Al-Qaeda- and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian opposition.
President Barack Obama signed an intelligence finding sometime in early 2012 that authorized U.S. support for the Syrian rebels and by mid-June 2012, CIA operatives reportedly were on the Turkish-Syrian border helping to steer weapons deliveries to selected Syrian rebel groups. According to an Oct. 14, 2012 New York Times article, most of those arms were going to “hard-line Islamic jihadists.”
One of those jihadis may well be Abdelhakim Belhadj, former leader of the Al-Qa’eda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and head of the Tripoli Military Council after Qaddafi’s ouster. During the 2011 revolt in Libya, Belhadj was almost certainly a key contact of the U.S. liaison to the Libyan opposition, Christopher Stevens.
In November 2011, Belhadj was reported to have met with Syrian Free Army (SFA) leaders in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as on the Turkish-Syrian border. Further, Belhadj’s contact with the SFA comes in the context of official policy adopted by the post-Qaddafi Libyan “government,” which sent a delegation to Turkey to offer arms and possibly fighters to the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. “There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” according to a Libyan source quoted in a November, 2011 Telegraph report.
The multilateral U.S.-Libya-Turkey agreement to get weapons into the hands of Syrian rebels – which were known to be dominated by Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood elements — by working with and through Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist figures like Belhadj, seemed confirmed by the appearance of a Libyan-flagged vessel, Al-Entisar, which docked at the Turkish port of Iskanderun on September 6, 2012.
Suspected of carrying weapons bound for the Syrian rebels, the ship’s cargo reportedly included Russian-designed, shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS, RPGs and surface-to-air missiles—all of them just the sort of weapons available in Libya.
Stevens’ last meeting in Benghazi the night he was killed was with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, who is variously reported to have been there to discuss a weapons transfer or a warning about the possible compromise of the Libyan weapons pipeline to Syria. Whatever the topic of Ambassador Stevens’ discussion with Akin, he clearly and knowingly put himself in harm’s way to be there, in Benghazi, on the night of September 11.
The urgency that compelled Stevens to Benghazi that night seems especially difficult to understand given what was known to him as well as to senior levels of the Obama administration about the extremely dangerous situation in post-Qaddafi Libya.
It is all the more baffling then that, in view of the obvious priority that the U.S. government had placed on its Libya-to-Syria weapons pipeline operation, such a systematic effort in the weeks leading up to the September 11 attack was dedicated to stripping the Benghazi base of the security protection it so desperately needed in a deteriorating Libyan security environment and despite the repeated pleas of Ambassador Stevens and others in both Tripoli and Benghazi for more security.
From at least February, 2012 onward, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Tripoli Embassy, Eric Nordstrom, had urged that U.S. security measures in Libya be expanded, citing dozens of security incidents by “Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)…”
In August 2012, Stevens reported that the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating, yet in spite of this, the 16-man Site Security Team assigned to Libya, comprised of Special Forces led by SF LTC Andy Wood, was ordered out of Libya, contrary to the Ambassador’s stated desire that they stay.
Note that, at any time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could have ordered the deployment to Benghazi of additional security experts from the Department of Security (DoS) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (or Diplomatic Security Service—DSS), but apparently chose not to do so.
Instead, DoS hired a British firm, Blue Mountain, to manage its security in Benghazi, and Blue Mountain subcontracted the job to a local jihadist militia called the February 17 Martyrs Brigade who have known Muslim Brotherhood ties.
Furthermore, Nordstrom testified at the October 11, 2012 Congressional hearings that “in deference to sensitivity to Libyan practice, the guards at Benghazi were unarmed”– an inexplicable practice for a place as dangerous as Benghazi.
Read more at Radical Islam
Clare Lopez is a senior fellow at RadicalIslam.org and a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East, national defense and counterterrorism. Lopez served for 25 years as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
See also: Benghazi’s Tough Questions (sultanknish.blogspot.com)