In part two of our report on the attack at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, questions over whether the incident involved a Rescue Interrupted, and an email showing the U.S. military offered up a Special Forces team to deploy to Benghazi long before the last two Americans were murdered.
However, the Obama administration never sought approval for their planes to fly into Libya.
The upcoming film "13 Hours, the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" recounts the story of CIA agents who say they were prevented from going to the immediate rescue of the Americans under attack a mile away. No outside military came to help. However, an internal government email shows U.S. Special Forces not far away had "spun up" during the attack. Sources say they were headed to Benghazi, but were stopped.
The new details may help explain why Congress had so much trouble getting direct answers from Obama officials who insisted a rescue attempt was impossible.
When questioned in 2013, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary Leon Panetta of the Department of Defense or "DOD," gave no hint that Special Forces had actually "spun up."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R)-South Carolina: Was any DOD asset ever deployed to help these people before the end of the attack?
Gen. Dempsey: Would you rephrase, would you?
Sen. Graham: Was any DOD asset, aircraft, or individual soldier ever sent put in motion to help these people before the attack was over?
Gen. Dempsey: Let if I could, as soon as we knew there was an attack, the National Mission Force and the FAST teams began
Sen. Graham: My question is, did anybody leave any base anywhere to go to the aid of the people under attack in Benghazi, Libya before the attack ended?
Secretary Panetta: No, because the attack ended before we could get off the ground.
Multiple officials said the same thing.
U.S. State Dept. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns: There simply wasn't enough time at that point to bring U.S. military forces.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Their assets were too far away to make much difference in any timely fashion.
Former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Vice Chairman of Accountability Review Board Admiral Mike Mullen: There simply was not enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference.
Adding to the claims of a rescue interrupted: the leader of a Foreign Emergency Support Team in the US earlier testified his squad, too, was stopped from responding, and a small US military team in Tripoli was ordered not to board a plane for Benghazi during the attacks.
Wood says it all implies a decision at the highest level. Otherwise, he believes the military would've gotten in position to respond five hours before the Benghazi attacks when the U.S. faced a related crisis: Islamic extremists overran the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
Wood: Their compound had been breached and there were people now inside their buildings under protection of Marine guards waiting for someone to bust into the rooms. To me, that would signal somebody should be getting those reaction forces ready to stand by and perhaps move. And then 5 hours later, when things occurred in Benghazi, and again, the alarm bell went off, and there was no apparent response, that's a pretty tough one to explain. With events transpiring in Cairo, at the Embassy in Cairo, I think the decision not to react may have been made very early on in the day, when those events were transpiring. So that by the time that Benghazi happened, it wasn't going to happen because that decision was made early on.
If so, why isn't clear. However, the attacks came eight weeks before the 2012 election. President Obama had campaigned on the idea he'd sent terrorists running.
Critics say deploying the military to terrorist attacks could have been viewed as more harmful to the campaign than the incorrect explanation the administration gave: that protesters attacked after being whipped up by an anti-Islamic YouTube video.
A Special Forces soldier for 24 years, Wood says his team and U.S. diplomats in Libya were briefed that if they ever got into trouble, those Special Forces in Europe were tasked with coming to the rescue.
Wood: They're kept in a high state of readiness just for that purpose. So they're willing and able and ready to jump. They're like the fire department, in any town, in any city in the United States.
To illustrate how close the U.S. Special Forces in Croatia were: A commercial flight from Zagreb, Croatia, taking off at the start of the Benghazi attacks with an hour and a half layover in Istanbul, Turkey, still could have arrived in Tripoli, Libya, before Woods and Doherty were killed.
However, the Special Forces offered up by the military ended up at the U.S. Naval Base at Sigonella, Italy instead of Benghazi. And in a delay that remains unexplained, it took 17 hours from the time the military said they'd spun up for them to make that hour and a half flight from Croatia to Italy. Far too late to help.
Wood: I operated there under the belief that those reaction forces would be there for us if we got into some kind of trouble like what happened.
Sharyl: Two groups of testimony given under oath by government officials were: there were no forces that could have responded quickly, and that even if they had scrambled more people, they couldn't have gotten there in time to make a difference.
Berntsen: I don't believe either of those reflect the truth of what occurred on the ground there. They had forces moving, they could have intervened, they should have intervened, and had they, we likely would have been in a position to save the second two men who bravely sacrificed their lives.
The State Department has said, "The notion that [it] did not do everything possible to protect our people that night is as offensive as it is wrong." There's one piece of evidence that could help in the debate: the After Action reports dissecting the military response, but the Pentagon has refused Congressional and media requests to see them.