RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
New details are emerging about that deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. This past September 11th, four Americans were killed there, including the American ambassador.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Many questions have been raised about whether the U.S. military or the CIA could have done more to save them. Now we're learning that military forces were sent. U.S. Special Forces based in Europe and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina were dispatched in an effort to help, but arrived too late.
MONTAGNE: And a new CIA timeline outlines what the agency says happened that night. NPR's Tom Bowman has been reporting on this story, and joins us now to sort this out.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with that timeline. First, let's remind people that there were really two separate attacks that night, right?
BOWMAN: That's right, Renee. First, the consulate. It's under attack and burning. The ambassador can't be reached. This started around 9:40 at night. And by 10:40, it's over, and the ambassador is missing. Now, remember, four Americans died that night. Two of them suffered their injuries at the consulate. And then there was a second attack, hours later and about a mile away. This is the CIA annex, where two other Americans die from a mortar attack.
MONTAGNE: So two attacks, two locations, fighting that went on and off for eight hours. Why, during that time, weren't military forces sent in?
BOWMAN: Well, actually, Renee, we've learned they were sent in. Special operations forces from Europe were sent, but they arrived too late in Libya. And a larger special operations force from Fort Bragg in North Carolina was also sent, and again, it was too late. But CIA security officers and U.S. special operations forces came from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli in time to help in the fight.
MONTAGNE: Part of this timeline involves a drone that hovered over during the fight, an unarmed drone. Could aircraft or an armed drone have actually bombed these attackers?
BOWMAN: Well, they looked at that. It was really the - only practical in the second attack at the CIA annex, because they time to get planes there. But here's a problem. As you say, they had an unarmed drone flying over the area. It was sending back this kind of grainy video feed of what's happening on the ground, and it was complete chaos. There were people with guns, people just watching, all in a residential area. So they decided there were no good targets, and that any bombing would kill civilians.
MONTAGNE: Now, let's shift here to another key question. There have been news reports that when a call for help came from the consulate there in Benghazi, CIA operatives were told to stand down. What is that argument? Where did that come from, and what have you learned about that?
BOWMAN: Well, we're told emphatically that did not happen. There was no stand-down. Now, remember, there were two attacks. During the first, at the consulate at 9:40 at night, the consulate calls to that CIA annex and says: We're under attack. Now, it took the CIA officer in charge at the annex about 24 minutes to organize a quick reaction force.
Experienced people we've talked with say, you know, that's a pretty good response time, considering the logistics of what you're trying to do - you know, contacting Libyan militias, trying to round up vehicles, heavy machine guns.
And officials say that timeline will be backed up by surveillance tape at both locations. Now, as for the stand-down, people we talk with say their best guess is one of the team members thought it was all taking too long. That's clearly understandable, given what was going on and that their colleagues were under fire just down the road.
MONTAGNE: What is the key thing to come out of this new timeline?
BOWMAN: That the CIA did respond on the ground quite quickly, and the U.S. military tried desperately to do something, but they just couldn't.
MONTAGNE: Tom Bowman is NPR's Pentagon correspondent. Thanks very much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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