What’s up with the Benghazi Four?

Immediately after the raids in Somalia and Libya, lawmakers began throwing barbs about Benghazi, saying, “If we could capture al-Ruqai in Tripoli, why can’t we get the guys that killed our ambassador in Benghazi?”  Initially, I said nothing because I actually thought we were going to get them.  That the Tripoli hit was just the first one in Libya, and Ambassador Stevens’ killers were about to have their head on a spike.

Well, it’s been a week, and I’m fairly sure the window of opportunity has passed.  The people responsible for Benghazi have heard all about our raids and have raised security to such a degree that we couldn’t get them now without a full-scale invasion, starting with a shock and awe air campaign.  It honestly puzzles me.  Why on earth did we not get those guys when we had the chance?

Some in the administration have said that Benghazi isn’t Tripoli, and that the security situation there is markedly different, so much so that our law enforcement is prevented from going there.  Yea, I agree, it’s different.  But that doesn’t answer the question.  Do they mean that it’s so bad in Benghazi that we’re afraid of a “Blackhawk down” incident, with a bloodbath and U.S. casualties?  If so, I’m flattered at the welfare shown Army Special Operations Forces.  Obviously we’re not cannon fodder like the Navy, because the SEALs were thrown into the teeth of Al Shabaab and, after a firefight, were forced to retreat without accomplishing their mission.  Clearly no one feared a “Mark V down” scenario, and make no mistake, the SEALs knew what they were up against.  They didn’t hit the beach and say, “Holy Shit…Where did all of these bad guys come from?  Intel said it was a resort town full of French sunbathers.”  No, they knew the enemy disposition and had the violence of action, but somewhere they lost the speed and surprise component.  No biggie.  It happens.  After all, the last time they visited this place, it was to slaughter an entire contingent of bad guys and rescue two hostages.  The time before that was to kill Saleh Nabhan, another ringleader of the 1998 embassy bombings.  The SEALs and SOCOM knew the enemy disposition, and still chose to assault, so that can’t be a reason for ignoring Benghazi.  We’ve already shown a willingness to go into the teeth for a capture mission.

Maybe it’s because al-Ruqai was indicted by the FBI, and thus we had a legal foundation.  But so are at least four of the Benghazi attackers, so that can’t be it.

Maybe it was a lack of intelligence.  We knew where al-Ruqai was, so we got him, and we don’t know where the Benghazi four are located.  I’d believe that, except the guy the FBI considers the mastermind of the Benghazi attack, Ahmed Khattala, held three different interviews for the press, including Fox News, CBS and CNN.  They had no trouble finding him, so surely with our omnipotent NSA and other collection platforms, we could too.  Lack of intelligence just doesn’t hold water.  In fact, given that three separate American news crews were able to penetrate Benghazi to interview Khattala, I’d say the security situation wasn’t much of a factor either.

Maybe we just didn’t want to upset the new Libyan government.  After all, Khattala is a Libyan citizen.  But so was al-Ruqai, and we clearly didn’t seem to care about ruffling any Libyan feathers there.  In fact, there’s some reporting to indicate that the Libyans have already given us tacit permission to go in and snag those guys, so that can’t be it.

Others have said that al-Ruqai was the bigger fish, as he was an operational planner for al Qaida and was cementing networks in the newly formed, fragile state of Libya.  I’ll agree, but how does that square with the Somalia hit?  The guy they were after was the mastermind of the Kenyan mall attack.  So in the greater scheme of things it was more important to go after him – merely weeks later – for an attack against Kenya than it was to go after the men responsible for killing our diplomatic mission – over a year later?  That makes no sense at all.

Al-Ruqai may have been more important strategically, but he certainly wasn’t more important politically, and this isn’t a zero sum game.  You didn’t have to hit one and lose the other.  You could have hit both, like I assumed would happen.  In fact, it would have been much, much simpler to hit two targets in the same country than it was to hit two targets separated across a continent (which, by the way, is pretty remarkable.  No other country on the planet could do what we did that night, and America should be justifiably proud).  Because you gain synergies with the local nature of the targets, you wouldn’t be forced to duplicate QRF, air cover, medevac, and etcetera.  So why didn’t we?

Honestly, reading the facts as reported in the press, it makes no sense to me.  Some will claim it’s because this administration is cowardly, but that doesn’t bear up given the targets we did hit.  The administration gave authorization to attempt a kill/capture mission by a strongpoint assault in Somalia, and authorization for a daylight snatch in Tripoli.  Both very risky, and certainly not cowardly.  Others will come up with some conspiracy theory that we’re in cahoots with the militias in Benghazi or the U.S. had Ambassador Stevens murdered, and capturing Khattala would reveal one or both.  I won’t even bother with those.

The answer could simply be tactical. Perhaps we did intend two simultaneous hits, but the second one aborted for some reason.  Maybe a helo malfunctioned.  Maybe the intel for the target didn’t pan out on that specific mission profile, forcing a rollover that never went because after al-Ruqai was taken, Khattala went to ground.

Or maybe we were tracking both and then picked up intel that al-Ruqai was leaving.  Maybe we got an intercept that said, “I’m sick of this city living.  Headed to northern Mali to see my brothers in AQIM.”  Maybe it forced our hand, either take him now, knowing Khattala would hide, or let him go and miss the chance at a big fish.  Dilemmas like that happen all the time.  They aren’t pretty, but then again, neither is war.

But that still doesn’t explain why we jumped like a bird on a June bug for the Somalia target, hitting it within weeks of the Nairobi attack, but have waited over a year to do anything about Benghazi.  I’m sure I’ll be kindly reminded that it took over ten years to get bin Laden, and that I myself have posted blogs during the hunt, explaining how hard such operational targeting is.  That’s true, but that’s all predicated on intelligence – or the lack thereof.  We have the intelligence to hit Khattala.  I guarantee it.  If three news networks can find and interview him, I have no doubt that we have a fairly robust pattern of life on his daily routine.  Hell, it’s not like he’s working very hard to hide, hanging out in swanky luxury hotels and granting interviews.  So what have we been waiting for?  What’s holding us back?

Perhaps the lack of intelligence isn’t where he’s located, but whether he can be proven guilty.  Because the administration is hell-bent on trying all terrorists like domestic criminals, Khattala would be granted the rights of a United States citizen if captured.  Maybe the administration hasn’t pulled the trigger because they know that if they bring him to trial they can’t win.  We know the FBI can’t get into Benghazi, either because the Libyans won’t let them or because it’s just too dangerous, so perhaps they don’t have a very solid case.  The administration was/is under pressure to produce results, and that pressure was directly transferred to the FBI.  Maybe, in an effort to show progress, they took what little they had, threw it against the wall, and indicted four people.

It toned down the partisan rhetoric in the short term, but when the intelligence community or DOD came forward with a target package, saying they could get Khattala, a dilemma was presented: If he was snatched and brought to trial, he’d be found not guilty by lack of evidence.  Now THAT would be embarrassing, and given the tepid conviction of the last terrorist brought to trial (acquitted on more than 280 charges, including murder), it is a real possibility, so the authority to launch is never given.

Maybe I’m wrong, but after analyzing all available facts, I’m unable come up with any other logical reason why we haven’t snatched any of the Benghazi four.  It’s not a question of can’t.  It’s a question of won’t.

Comments

  1. Brian Gaffney says:

    Hi Brad,

    Big fan of your books and supporter of the SOF community!! I was curious to know if you or your contacts know Dylan Davies and his credibility and reputation??

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/simon-schuster-benghazi-book-suspended_n_4241805.html

    • Brad Taylor says:

      Thanks for the support, and glad you like the books. I don’t know Dylan Davies personally, but suffice to say his credibility and reputation are pretty much shot. He inflated his story to sell a book, and Simon and Schuster (along with 60 Minutes) took him at his word. It is a fact that he was a contractor working for the state department. His employer was responsible for the outer perimeter security, comprised of third country nationals. Other than that, it looks like he’s a fraud when talking about weapon-butts to the face and infiltrating hospitals. It’s happened before on numerous occasions whereby someone sees a chance for profit based on a controversy, then inflates their own placement and access to sell a book. The book Dirty Wars does the same thing with SOF operations post 9-11, making up a host of allegations and untruths based on rumor and “inside sources”. Hell, Seymour Hersch does that every time he writes an article about SOF, finding people who are willing to embellish or outright making up what he believes the truth to be. The difference there is they both have an agenda to harm SOF based on their own internal political beliefs and Dylan Davies (in my opinion) just wanted to make a little cash.

  2. I still question WHY the Ambassador & others were not given help when they were calling for help several
    times. I still hold the then Sec. of State top responsibility for that horrific negligence. That “buck” stopped at
    her desk.
    Could have the CIA been involved ? Would there might be an anticipation of some kind of “leak” and had to
    “silence” closest involved? Sure, I guess you’ll call me a conspiracy “dufus”, but, it is good to question.
    Looking forward to your new novel !!

    • Brad Taylor says:

      I would never call you a conspiracy “dufus” because the administration has done such a horrific job end-to-end on Benghazi that it’s almost impossible NOT to see a conspiracy. For me – as I’ve said on other blogs – there is no secret conspiracy to kill people or other CIA actions to “silence” anyone. I read the conspiracy reporting and most can be refuted easily except that nobody in the civilian world knows the right questions to ask. For instance, two things that came up early on were a) One of the SEALs was using a ground laser designator to ID targets, thus there had to be help in the air. b) that help was an AC 130 that was ordered not to fire. Both of these sound sexy, but in truth, make no sense. A GLD is used to provide terminal guidance to precision weapons, and its laser has an encrypted code that is mated to the missile. in other words, whatever was firing the missile had to have coordinated prior to anything happening to ensure their codes matched. If there had been that much coordination – IE, the CIA went so far as to ensure their GLD was synched with an overhead platform from the department of defense – then obviously there was a reaction force prepped to respond in the event of hostilities. Obviously, that didn’t occur. But maybe it did? Maybe the AC 130 gunship was orbiting overhead and ordered not to fire. Well, that would be another good conspiracy with the exception that there is NOTHING on the AC 130 that requires terminal guidance from a GLD. Everything it shoots is dumb and kinetic. If he were using a GLD to enhance fire support from an AC 130 it was a waste of time – and as a SEAL he would know that.

      In my mind the travesty is precisely that the President and the administration didn’t want to admit that their cheap little war in Libya was turning into a mess, and ignored all signs of that because it would affect his narrative of being a decisive commander in chief prior to the election (which is why the whole “video” thing came about). Thus, recognizing the danger and urgency of the situation would be recognizing that AQ was NOT on the run and that Libya was turning into a mess. Easier to stick their head into the sand and ignore it. Because of that, four men died. And THAT is the crime.

  3. Matthew Barber says:

    Mr. Taylor,

    I am writing simply to ask for some reference materials. I noticed you read STRATFOR and you have cited a few others in the past. I want to be informed but I am just finding it difficult to find responsible reporting and analysis that I don’t have to pay ridiculous sums of money for. Everything offered by the TV news seems incendiary and aimed more at enhancing viewership rather than informing their audience. Things like Benghazi, Libya, Afghanistan, wikileaks, etc. are all of interest to me, but the only reasonable analysis I have come across…is your blog. Obviously, I am not a parrot and do not want to have just YOUR opinion. I would like a spectrum of views as much as such a thing is possible without catering to the idea that there simply is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our world. Further, I refuse to accept that there are not others like you (who mean well and have solid background to back up their opinions) out there somewhere running a news magazine, website, etc. Would you mind recommending some spots for me to peek at? One more thing: Please post more. I check your blog every other day or so hoping for some new thoughts about whatever is on your mind, but your entries are few and far between. Is this because you are busy with your other professional commitments or because not enough people read your blog? Thanks for your time.

    ~Matthew

    • Brad Taylor says:

      Matthew,

      There are a few places where you can sign up to have news delivered to your inbox at no charge.

      Two that simply aggregate national security and military affairs reporting:

      National Journal Early Bird:http://www.nationaljournal.com/early-bird
      Military Times Early Bird:http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20131101/NEWS/311010016/

      Two that do their own analysis without any political slant (Defense One is owned by Atlantic Media, so sometimes they have commentary from The Atlantic or The Atlantic Wire, both which are liberal):

      Breaking Defense:http://breakingdefense.com
      Defense One:http://www.defenseone.com

      Hope these help. As for how often I blog, that’s dictated by two things: 1) Is there something in the news that piques my interest or aggravates me enough to want to write, and 2) Do I have the time to do the research and put the words down. This generally works out to once a month. It has nothing to do with how many readers I have. I could care less about that.

  4. Matthew Barber says:

    Mr. Taylor,

    . Thank you! I will delve into these this week. I very much appreciate your writing back. Good luck with your new book!

    ~Matthew

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