Let's get back to the facts of what happened in Benghazi on 9/11/12. I don't want to get into extensive interpretations or criticism of anyone, I offer only my factual summary, and I'll let you draw the conclusions.
Two locations in Benghazi are of interest: the consulate, a complex of structures located in a compound large enough to contain orchards, and, about a mile away, the CIA''s local station, called the CIA annex.
The situation on 11 Sep 2012
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was at the consulate. He was guarded by two members of the Diplomatic Security service. Three other members of the Diplomatic Security service were also present at the consulate, as well as a Foreign Service officer, Sean Smith.
Local security at the consulate consisted of three armed members of a militia called the February 17 Brigade which was under contract to the Libyan government for this service, as well as four unarmed watchman. These local personnel had been placed in charge of the main gate to the consulate compound.
More below the fold ...
The consulate compound
There are several buildings in the consulate compound. Some of these were known as "villas". Near Villa B, the consulate had an office, which was also called the "Tactical Operations Center", which allowed the occupants to watch the exterior of the building via closed-circuit television.
Villa C had a "safe haven" which was a fortified area designed to keep intruders out. The safe haven was located in a building called "Villa C". Diesel fuel was kept at the compound, this was for electrical generators that had been brought in (but not yet installed) to supply power to the living quarters (near Gate C1) for the February 17 Brigade armed personnel.
The situation in Benghazi was quite dangerous, and quite a large number of violent incidents had occurred in the months before the attack. According to a State Dept report (12/20/12):
... Benghazi remained a lawless town nominally controlled by the Supreme Security Council (SSC) – a coalition of militia elements loosely cobbled into a single force to provide interim security – but in reality run by a diverse group of local Islamist militias, each of whose strength ebbed and flowed depending on the ever-shifting alliances and loyalties of various members.Because of this and because of the date, Ambassador Stevens did not leave the consular compound that day, and held meetings instead inside.
Present in the compound on the evening of 11 Sep 2012, in addition to Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith, were five agents of the Diplomatic Security (DS) agency. The chief DS agent held the title of Regional Security Officer (RSO), and the other four agents had the title of Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO).
Each DS agent carried a sidearm and also was issued a tactical "kit" consisting generally of body armor, a radio, and an M-4 rifle.
The RSO and ARSOs 1 and 2 had been assigned to the consulate on what was considered to be a temporary basis. The remaining DS agents, ARSOs 3 and 4 came to Benghazi from Tripoli with Ambassador Stevens.
The consulate had requested that the Supreme Security Council post a police squad car outside the consulate on a 24/7 basis, but in practice this was done only intermittently. The consulate had renewed this request again, specifically for the duration of the visit of the ambassador.
The main gate to the compound was known as gate C1.
Maps and images.
There seem to be no public domain diagrams or photos of the Benghazi attacks. Here are some links however which contain photos, maps, or diagrams. (Some of the information on the linked images may not be fully accurate): BBC, NYT, Daily Beast.
Timeline of the attacks
Times are Benghazi local. All times are approximate, and are not uniformly agreed in in the sources.
06:45 am. A watchman at the consulate sees a man wearing the uniform of the police of nominal Libyan government, the Supreme Security Council ("SSC"), apparently taking photos of the consulate with a cell phone. This was reported to ARSOs 1 and 2. They examined the scene, but did not identify anything suspicious. Even so, a formal complaint to the SSC about the apparent surveillance was drafted by Ambassador Stevens but could not be delivered due to the "typically early" closure of Libyan government offices.
06:51 pm. Sunset in Benghazi.
07:40 pm. Ambassador Stevens and a Diplomatic Security agent escort a Turkish diplomat to the north C1 gate. Nothing unusual is noted.
08:10 pm. A British security team dropped off vehicles which they had used in supporting a visit by British diplomats earlier that day.
08:30 pm. The British security team departs the consulate via the C1 gate. Nothing unusual is noted.
09:00 pm. Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith retire for the night at Villa C. ARSO 4 watches a video in the common area of Villa C. The RSO was working in the office, where as I mentioned, he could monitor a series of security cameras place around the perimeter of the consulate. ARSOs 1, 2 and 3 were sitting outside and behind Villa C.
The ARSOs carried their sidearms, but pursuant to policy, they did kept their tactical kit in their bedroom/sleeping areas.
09:02 pm. A Supreme Security Council (SSC) police vehicle arrives at main gate C1.
09:42 pm. The SSC police vehicle departs. At about the same time, the RSO in the office heard shots and an explosion. He looked on the security cameras and saw dozens of individuals, many armed, beginning to enter the compound through Gate C1. He hit the alarm, and notified the embassy in Tripoli, the CIA Annex, and the Diplomatic Security agency HQ in Washington DC that they were under attack.
ARSOs 1, 2 and 3 heard the shots, the explosion, and also chanting. Pursuant to a prior plan, ARSO 1 entered Villa C to place the ambassador and IMO Smith into the safe haven and also to retrieve his tactical kit. ARSO 2 ran to the office, where his kit was stored. ARSOs 3 and 4 ran to Villa B to retrieve their kits. When they attempted to return to Villa C, they could not because of the large number of attackers blocking the route. They returned to Villa B, and barricaded themselves in a back room with one of the unarmed local watchmen.
09:45 pm. Between 9:45 pm and 10:00 pm, the attackers used the diesel fuel on the compound to set fire to the February 17 living quarters and nearby vehicles. Attackers entered Villa C, damaged some of the comments, but did not directly attack the safe room. ARSO 1, who was inside the safe room with Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith, decided not to attempt to engage the attackers from the safe area, but warned the ambassador and the IMO that the attackers might blow off the door hinges with explosives.
Instead the lights grew dim, and ARSO 1 realized that Villa C had been set on fire. As the smoke grew thick, ARSO sought to assist Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith to escape from the building by breaking a window. In the process, he became separated from the other two. He repeatedly returned to Villa C through the window in attempts to rescue the ambassador and the foreign service office, but was driven back by heat and smoke.
During the attack on Villa C, there was also an attempt to burn Villa B, however there was no fuel remaining to use for an accelerant, and this attack failed. The intruders also attempted to enter the office, but this also failed.
ARSOs 2, 3, and 4 were able to reach Villa C, where they found ARSO 1, who had attempted to reenter the building from the roof, vomiting from smoke inhalation and losing consciousness. ARSOs 2, 3 and 4 then repeatedly entered Villa C themselves to search for the ambassador and IMO Smith. They do find the body of IMO Smith, who apparently died from smoke inhalation. They are unable to find Ambassador Stevens.
10:05 pm. (or earlier). A security team of six personnel and a translator leaves the CIA annex en route to the consulate.
10:25 pm. Security team enters consulate, encountering ineffective fire coming from the compound.
At the same time, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, meet with the President at the White House. Panetta returns to the Pentagon, meets with others, including Carter Ham, chief of US Africa Command.
10:40 pm. The firefight between the security team from the annex and the consulate attackers ends. The security team reaches the building where the ambassador was last seen alive, but was unable to enter do to the intense fire and smoke.
11:11 pm. DoD unarmed surveillance drone arrives over the Benghazi consulate. Later a second drone arrives.
11:15 pm. The annex security team sends the Diplomatic Security agents to the annex, using a fully armored vehicle.. All five agents were suffering from smoke inhalation. Enroute they come under heavy fire, and apparently an organized attempt to lure the vehicle into a trap.
11:30 pm. Unable to locate Ambassador Stevens, the security team from the annex leaves, separately (and later) from the Diplomatic Security Agents. They take with them the body of IMO Smith. Their vehicles also come under fire as they leave the consulate. Ambassador Stevens is still missing. The situation is quiet at the CIA Annex when the DS agents arrive, also about 11:30, in their armored vehicle. They take up defensive positions and receive medical treatment.
12:00 pm.Attackers fire (sporadically) small arms and RPGs at the CIA annex. The security team returns fire, disbursing the attackers.
12:30 am. Orders are issued to begin moving U.S. military units to Libya.
1:01 am. The sporadic RPG and small arms attacks on the CIA annex end.
01:15 am.. An additional team of seven security personnel from Tripoli arrive at the Benghazi airport via chartered aircraft. They are held up for at least three hours negotiating with Libyan authorities about logistics. The location of the ambassador is unknown at this time, but he is assumed to be dead.
02:00 am. The fate of Ambassador Stevens is learned. He appears to have been found (but not recognized) in the safe room of Villa C by some "good Samaritans" among the locals at about 01:15 am, and taken to a hospital. Medical personnel attempted to revive him, but he had no signs of life and apparently had died of smoke inhalation.
03:00 am. Acting on the orders of SecDef Panetta, three units are preparing to deport, consisting of two special forces teams, one at Fort Bragg, NC, and one in Central Europe, and a Marine anti-terrorism unit.
05:00 am. The additional security team at the airport manages to security transport and an armed escort, They learn that Ambassador Stevens is almost certainly dead and the hospital security situation is unclear. They go to the CIA annex to assist with the evacuation.
05:04 am. The security team from Tripoli arrives at the CIA annex.
05:14 am. The CIA annex is attacked with mortar rounds. The security teams engage the attackers. In so doing, CIA annex security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who had taken up a firing position on the roof, are killed by mortar rounds. An ARSO and an annex team security officer were severely wounded.
05:26 am. The mortar attack at the CIA annex ends.
06:00 am. Heavily-armed Libyan forces (not militia) arrive at the CIA complex with about 50 vehicles. They help evacuate the U.S. personnel from the annex to the airport.
06:22 am. Sunrise in Benghazi.
07:30 am. The aircraft chartered by the Tripoli security team, departs Benghazi with all wounded personnel on board, and other Americans (but not those in Benghazi) and returns to Tripoli.
10:00 am. A Libyan government C-130 leaves Benghazi airport bound for Tripoli, with all remaining American personnel on board.
Observations and criticism
All security personnel conducted themselves splendidly. There was fault here however, and it is chargeable to their superiors. Many improvements could have been made in the planning and preparation for a contingency such as this one. These have been detailed elsewhere and in detail (see ARB report referenced below).
I highlight only one criticism, which was also mentioned in the report, and that is the very poor linguistic skills with which our diplomatic security is equipped. I suspect that the reason why the front gate of the compound was not guarded by American personnel, particular when the Ambassador was present on the critical date of 9/11, was because none of the personnel, save Ambassador Stevens himself, spoke Arabic. And we see that it was necessary to locate an Arabic interpreter over at the CIA annex to accompany the rescue mission to the consulate.
It bears remembering, that as of 2007, 58 trained Arabic interpreters had been separated from the armed services of this country based on the odious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." policy. (link) This stupidity represented by this policy, thankfully reversed by the present administration, will still take a long time to remedy.
This is not to minimize the responsibility of the present administration, nor is it to shift the blame for the attacks to anyone other than the terrorist themselves, but only to point out that the present defense and security needs of our country require interpreters and translators just as much or more than this or that weapons system.
* Military Times, Timeline of the Libya rescue effort (11/2/11).
* U.S. Senate, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Flashing Red:
A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi (12/30/12) (.pdf)
* U.S. State Dept., Accountability Review Board report on Benghazi attacks (12/20/12) (.pdf)