US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would testify before a key Congressional committee later this week on the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi.
In the attack, the US Ambassador to Libya and three other American nationals were killed.
In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee said Panetta and Dempsey would testify on Thursday on the Department of Defence’s response to the attack on US facilities in Benghazi, and the findings of its internal review following the attack.
It is for quite some time that the Senate leadership had been asking for hearing on the Benghazi incident directly from Panetta and Dempsey.
A day earlier in an interview to a US news channel, Panetta and Dempsey had defended the Pentagon’s actions during the Benghazi attack.
“This is not 9/11. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time.
That’s the nature of it. Our people are there. They are in position to move, but we’ve got to have good intelligence that gives us a heads up that something is going to happen,” the Defense Secretary told the CNN in an interview.
Panetta said the intelligence did not provide any warning that this was going to happen. “We deployed. We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go. But very frankly by the time we got the information as to what, in fact, was taking place there, just distance alone made it very difficult to respond quickly. That’s just the nature of dealing with the Middle East,” he said in response to a question.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refuted reports that the attack on the Benghazi Consulate was seven-hour battle. “It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect,” he said.
“The nearest armed aircraft, happened to be in Djibouti.
The distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington DC, to Los Angeles. There is some significant physics involved. And the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time,” Dempsey argued.
Panetta said the US has learnt lessons from the Benghazi attack. “The answer is you have to develop host country capability there. Every embassy we have, the host country has to provide good security,” he said.
“You have to be able to rely in part on their capability to provide security. You’ve also got to be able to harden the facility so that, you know, it is well-protected. Thirdly, if none of that works, then obviously you’ve got to have a response team that’s ready to respond. You’ve got to have intelligence that tells you this is trouble. There’s a risk here,” he said.
Dempsey said as soon as they knew something happened, Panetta gave vocal instructions to begin moving forces to a higher alert posture and to make them with aircraft necessary to move them, and then, including the transit time to give him an estimate of how quickly they could have something there.
“We did exactly what you just said. But you can’t be at every place. And I might remind you it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world, not just in Libya.