Others, like Matthew VanDyke, say the report highlights the nuance of the attack, which was lost in the wake as political and military pundits sought to score points.
VanDyke — an American who fought with Libyan rebels to oust Gaddafi — says the report vindicates his initial assessment of Benghazi, and says people mentioning Al Qaeda have a fundamentally flawed view of Al Qaeda as a top-down organisation with regimented ranks.
He writes us via email:
Complicating the “affiliation” issue is that individuals or groups may self-identify as being sympathetic to Al Qaeda or being part of Al Qaeda, without any actual operational connection or communication link to the core leadership of Al Qaeda. And even if they do have that rare link to the leadership, the majority of their actions are carried out independently, without direction from that leadership.
“Affiliation” with Al Qaeda is a broad term that is often misused, and often deliberately misused.
Islamist extremists are a small club and many know each other. They travel in the same circles and many of them are only a couple degrees of separation from someone who actually is part of Al Qaeda. But how many degrees of separation equals an “affiliation”? If it’s only one or two degrees, then they’re going to start labelling me, and many journalists as well, as Al Qaeda affiliated because of some of our contacts in the region might identify themselves as being Al Qaeda (anyone working in the region long enough as a filmmaker or journalist covering conflict zones has such contacts).
A perfect example would be the Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who was imprisoned following his interviews with drone strike victims and members of AQAP.
VanDyke, like initial reports, says the rebels saw an opportunity to attack when the Muslim world exploded after an anti-Islam video went viral:
The anti-Islam video was the catalyst that set the events into motion that day, just as it had in Cairo and elsewhere around the world.
The difference was that in Benghazi the disgruntled were armed to the teeth and itching to fire their weapons having just fought in a war less than a year earlier. There’s no grand conspiracy involved, and no adequate sociological explanations for what happened that day. It was a post-war population of young men who were armed, a mob mentality, misplaced anger, minimal planning or organisation, and a rapid escalation of violence that proved a deadly, tragic combination that day in Benghazi.
Others, particularly Republicans and some military members, dispute VanDyke’s assessment as naive.
Jack Murphy, former Army Green Beret, author, and writer for the site SOFREP, calls the Times report “revisionist.”
The Times article also tries to tell us that those who attacked the consulate were locals, with few foreign fighters even though we know that Eastern Libya was awash which foreign jihadists. We know that many of those jihadists were tied to Al Qaeda, another fact which Kirkpatrick conveniently ignores.
Murphy doesn’t comment on whether Al Qaeda leadership actually pulled the trigger on the operation against the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a detail that still remains unclear, despite indications of “affiliation.”
VanDyke still doesn’t seem to think it was planned, or Al Qaeda-executed, and he didn’t a year ago, when he told us, “This was not a commando style raid, that’s ridiculous, this type of thing can be put together in a matter of minutes with a few cell-phone calls.”
“The people up in [Libya’s] green mountains, the extremists, they saw their opportunity to pounce. I’ve experienced how quickly the mobilization can happen firsthand. All it takes is a couple cell phones. All of sudden there’s a handful of trucks packed with fighters.”
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