The State Department has posted a transcript of their press conference by conference call from Tuesday a week ago (9 Oct). Here are a couple of excerpts, beginning with the rough timeline of events (study it, the live description can get confusing, and perhaps I’ve over-excerpted it, but careful reading brings out the important parts). The basic narrative is provided by Senior State Department Official Number One. Heads up; this is a long post, even for me.
A few minutes later—we’re talking about 9 o’clock at night—the Ambassador retires to his room, the others are still at Building C, and the one agent in the [Tactical Operations Center]. At 9:40 p.m., the agent in the TOC and the agents in Building C hear loud noises coming from the front gate. They also hear gunfire and an explosion. The agent in the TOC looks at his cameras—these are cameras that have pictures of the perimeter—and the camera on the main gate reveals a large number of people—a large number of men, armed men, flowing into the compound.
They [two armed security agents responding to Building C]…encounter a large group of armed men between them and Building C. … The agents that encounter the armed group make a tactical decision to turn around and go back to their Building B and barricade themselves in there [ed note: this is no act of timidity. Those two had tactically plausible means of penetrating that armed group]. So we have people in three locations right now.
And I neglected to mention—I should have mentioned from the top that the attackers, when they came through the gate, immediately torched the barracks. It is aflame, the barracks that was occupied by the 17th February Brigade armed host country security team. I should also have mentioned that at the very first moment when the agent in the TOC seized the people flowing through the gate, he immediately hits an alarm, and so there is a loud alarm. He gets on the public address system as well, yelling, “Attack, attack.” Having said that, the agents—the other agents had heard the noise and were already reacting.
All—Building C is—attackers penetrate in Building C. They walk around inside the building into a living area, not the safe haven area. The building is dark. They look through the grill, they see nothing. They try the grill, the locks on the grill; they can’t get through. The agent is, in fact, watching them from the darkness. He has his long gun trained on them and he is ready to shoot if they come any further. They do not go any further.
They have jerry cans. They have jerry cans full of diesel fuel that they’ve picked up at the entrance when they torched the barracks. They have sprinkled the diesel fuel around. They light the furniture in the living room—this big, puffy, Middle Eastern furniture. They light it all on fire, and they have also lit part of the exterior of the building on fire. At the same time, there are other attackers that have penetrated Building B. The two agents in Building B are barricaded in an inner room there. The attackers circulate in Building B but do not get to the agents and eventually leave.
A third group of attackers tried to break into the TOC. They pound away at the door, they throw themselves at the door, they kick the door, they really treat it pretty rough; they are unable to get in, and they withdraw. Back in Building C, where the Ambassador is, the building is rapidly filling with smoke. The attackers have exited. The smoke is extremely thick. It’s diesel smoke, and also, obviously, smoke from—fumes from the furniture that’s burning.
And I am sitting about three feet away from Senior Official Number Two, and the agent I talked to said he could not see that far away in the smoke and the darkness.
Okay. We’ve got the agent. He’s opening the—he is suffering severely from smoke inhalation at this point. He can barely breathe. He can barely see. He’s got the grill open [to a bedroom window, through which the party has determined it must evacuate Building C] and he flops out of the window onto a little patio that’s been enclosed by sandbags. He determines that he’s under fire, but he also looks back and sees he doesn’t have his two companions. He goes back in to get them. He can’t find them. He goes in and out several times before smoke overcomes him completely, and he has to stagger up a small ladder to the roof of the building and collapse. He collapses.
The other agents [in Building B and the TOC], at this time, can see that there is some smoke, or at least the agents in the TOC….
The agent in the TOC, who is in full gear, opens the door, throws a smoke grenade, which lands between the two buildings, to obscure what he is doing, and he moves to Building B, enters Building B. He un-barricades the two agents that are in there, and the three of them emerge and head for Building C. There are, however, plenty of bad guys and plenty of firing still on the compound, and they decide that the safest way for them to move is to go into an armored vehicle, which is parked right there. They get into the armored vehicle and they drive to Building C.
[T]he special security team, the quick reaction security team from the other compound, arrive on this compound. They came from what we call the annex. With them—there are six of them—with them are about 16 members of the Libyan February 17th Brigade, the same militia that was—whose—some members of which were on our compound to begin with in the barracks.
As those guys attempt to secure a perimeter around Building C, they also move to the TOC, where one agent has been manning the phone. I neglected to mention from the top that that agent from the top of this incident, or the very beginning of this incident, has been on the phone. He had called the quick reaction security team, he had called the Libyan authorities, he had called the Embassy in Tripoli, and he had called Washington. He had them all going to ask for help. And he remained in the TOC.
So at this point in the evening, the members of the quick reaction team, some parts of it, go to the TOC with the Libyan 17th Brigade—17th February Brigade. They get him out of the TOC. He moves with them to join their colleagues outside of Building C. All the agents at this point are suffering from smoke inhalation.
At this point, the quick reaction security team and the Libyans, especially the Libyan forces, are saying, “We cannot stay here. It’s time to leave. We’ve got to leave. We can’t hold the perimeter.” So at that point, they make the decision to evacuate the compound and to head for the annex. The annex is about two kilometers away. My agents pile into an armored vehicle with the body of Sean, and they exit the main gate.
[T]hey take fire almost as soon as they emerge from the compound. They go a couple of—they go in one direction toward the annex. They don’t like what they’re seeing ahead of them. There are crowds. There are groups of men. They turn around and go the other direction. They don’t like what they’re seeing in that direction either. They make another U-turn. They’re going at a steady pace. There is traffic in the roads around there. This is in Benghazi, after all. Now, they’re going at a steady pace and they’re trying not to attract too much attention, so they’re going maybe 15 miles an hour down the street.
They come up to a knot of men in an adjacent compound, and one of the men signals them to turn into that compound. They agents at that point smell a rat, and they step on it. They have taken some fire already. At this point, they take very heavy fire as they go by this group of men. They take direct fire from AK-47s from about two feet away. The men also throw hand grenades or gelignite bombs under—at the vehicle and under it. At this point, the armored vehicle is extremely heavily impacted, but it’s still holding. There are two flat tires, but they’re still rolling. …
As the night goes on…[t]he reinforcements from Tripoli are at the compound—at the annex. They take up their positions. And somewhere around 5:45 in the morning—sorry, somewhere around 4 o’clock in the morning—I have my timeline wrong—somewhere around 4 o’clock in the morning the annex takes mortar fire. It is precise and some of the mortar fire lands on the roof of the annex. It immediately killed two security personnel that are there, severely wounds one of the agents that’s come from the compound.
At that point, a decision is made at the annex that they are going to have to evacuate the whole enterprise.
And there’s this question and answer at that presser:
Brad Klapper, AP: Hi, yes. You described several incidents you had with groups of men, armed men. What in all of these events that you’ve described led officials to believe for the first several days that this was prompted by protests against the video?
Senior State Department Official Two: That is a question that you would have to ask others. That was not our conclusion. I’m not saying that we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened. The Ambassador walked guests out around 8:30 or so, there was no one on the street at approximately 9:40, then there was the noise and then we saw on the cameras the—a large number of armed men assaulting the compound.
I have a couple of questions that rise from this. Keep in mind that this is what State knew in the hours after the terrorist attack on our Consulate in Benghazi, five days before our Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, went on television and insisted this terrorism was just a spontaneous response to a YouTube movie short. This was six days before Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama repeated the misinformation on his hustings.
First, who are we to believe—State, or a President and Vice President with vested interests in downplaying the magnitude of this foreign policy failure for their own re-election benefit and who have a history of lying to us on a broad range of subjects throughout their term? But—doesn’t State do foreign policy, isn’t this their failure as much as the President’s? Think about that, think about who’s in charge of the Executive Branch.
The other question is this: what would the dozen additional personnel that had been requested by the security leadership in-country and denied by State (State isn’t pure in this fiasco) been able to accomplish had they been approved and sent those months prior?
Quite a lot, I think. At minimum, I strongly believe that our Ambassador would be alive today, albeit likely with a different set of casualties, from the more active defense that large increase in numbers would have made possible. They might have been enough to successfully resist the invasion; although this supposition is a lot more speculative.
Bearing on that second question is this exchange at the end of the presser. The answer is both evasive and pertinent.
Shaun Waterman, Washington Times: Oh, hey. Okay. Thanks, man. So could—I mean, just in view of what you are now saying about the attack and the intensity of it and the numbers of people involved, what—can you say what kind of security presence might have been needed to repel an attack like that? I mean, what—I mean, if the criticism is there wasn’t enough security, how much would you have needed to protect the compound from this attack?
Senior State Department Official Number Two: It is difficult to answer hypothetical questions, but let me just put it this way. The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented. There had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya—Tripoli, Benghazi, or elsewhere—in the time that we had been there. And so it is unprecedented. In fact, it would be very, very hard to find a precedent for an attack like that in recent diplomatic history.
h/t Power Line