No Fog of War in Benghazi

Al Qaeda, a globally arrayed group whose leadership arranges funding, sets training standards to inculcate tactical expertise, and provides the overall vision wrapped around jihad with the ultimate goal of establishing a global Islamist caliphate, continues as an immediate and substantial threat. Its diffuse organizational structure renders it a multiheaded hydra, difficult to decapitate with isolated drone strikes. Largely autonomous local affiliates select and reconnoiter targets, plan and carry out attacks. Osama bin Laden's vision was that al Qaeda be a "message" and not an organization like the Hamas or Hezbollah. Al Qaeda, now under the experienced leadership of Egyptian terrorist Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, exists to inspire the strategic vision.

Recent attacks on U.S. embassies in the Islamic world and the coordinated operation against the Benghazi consulate on the night of September 11, 2012, prove al Qaeda is not "on its heels." The original administration claims about the attack on the Benghazi consulate were politically motivated and disingenuous. Even David Petraeus, recently resigned director of the CIA, initially supported the administration's claim that the consulate was sacked by a "flash mob" rather than terrorists conducting a planned and concerted attack. His forthcoming testimony is critical because the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, connected at the hip in intelligence matters, were forewarned of the attack.

While the Cairo embassy episode typified an al Qaeda tactic by using the obscure YouTube video to enflame the Arab street, on the day before the fatal attack at Benghazi, al Zawahiri warned that the attack was coming. The only logical conclusion is that the administration covered up the truth. At approximately 4:07 p.m. Washington time a "flash" message was passed through INTELINK, the secure intelligence warning system. Since it involved an attack on a U.S. ambassador -- with a consulate being American soil -- it went to the White House, and presumably, President Barack Obama. The "fog of war" (an 18th-century term derived from cannon and musket smoke obscuring the battlefield) excuse simply doesn't wash considering the clarity of videos already available.
Worse, there were prior warnings and indicators pointing to a coming event. After the Benghazi chapter of al Qaeda blew a hole in the wall of the U.S. consulate on June 6, they left leaflets promising "more attacks against American interests" in retaliation for drone attacks in the Derna area of Libya. Simultaneously, they claimed responsibility for the earlier attacks on the Red Cross in Benghazi. On September 10, Dr. Zawahiri posted a 42-minute video that he said was recorded during Ramadan, specifically to be released on the anniversary of 9/11. The video claimed a pending attack would avenge the death of Abu Yahaya al-Libi, a Libyan killed in a drone attack in Pakistan on June 4, 2012. Al-Libi's brother serves in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In the video, Zawahiri rhetorically asked what should be done about the death of al-Libi and the answer was: "Fight and kill the crusaders ... do not let him down."

The June 6 attack on the consulate, two days after the drone killed al-Libi, was videotaped and released a week later, showing the initial attack on the consulate wall, footage of Osama bin Laden, images of Zawahiri, and also of the tumbling Trade Center towers. The Koran requires that a warning be presented to the victim but does not specify a time frame. Whether or not the victim understands or heeds the warning is irrelevant. The Zawahiri video released hours before the attack met Koranic requirements.

Furthermore, in the days before the attack, a London-based spokesman for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly stated that the Libyan jihadists were actively gathering information on the activities of diplomatic missions in Libya. Finally, in his September 10/11 video, Zawahiri warned al-Libi's "blood is calling, urging, and inciting you to fight and kill crusaders."

Any intelligence analyst would know the significance of these indicators. Since they involved a pending attack on a U.S. ambassador, only unimaginable negligence on the part of a multitude of intelligence warning officers who follow established protocols or incompetence by Middle Eastern terrorism experts would have prevented this information from being briefed at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Intelligence officers at the Foggy Bottom, the CIA, the National Military Command Center, and the White House are experienced and the best in their fields.

Furthermore, the Zawahiri warnings, clearly stated on the Internet, make more sense than an obscure video floating around for months that no one saw or paid much attention to until President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began touting it as the inspiration behind a Benghazi lynch mob that never existed. Was an AC-130 Spectre gunship, a sophisticated weapons platform carrying a wide variety of deadly options capable of accurate enough to minimize the possibility of collateral damage, dispatched and then recalled? If so, who recalled it? Why weren't F-16s sent from the base at Aviano, Italy? At most, it requires 30 to 45 minutes to fuel and arm the aircraft and brief the pilots and another 45 minutes to fly to Benghazi.

Above all, what did the president know and when did he know it? David Petraeus can lift the fog shrouding what happened at Benghazi.

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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