The US ambassador killed in last month’s terrorist attack in Libya wanted a military security team to continue protecting his embassy when it was withdrawn in August, the team’s commander has said.Chris Stevens, who died in the Sept 11 strike on the US consulate in Benghazi, is said to have disagreed with a State Department decision to pull out the 16-man team of special operations soldiers.
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, their commander, told ABC that for Mr Stevens and his team, the “first choice was for us to stay,” adding: “That would have been the choice of the embassy people in Tripoli.”
He told CBS that security officials felt like they were being “asked to play the piano with two fingers” when the Obama administration withdrew both his team and a six-man State Department “elite force”.
“We tried to illustrate … to show them how dangerous and how volatile and just unpredictable that whole environment was over there,” Lt. Col. Wood told CBS.
“So to decrease security in the face of that really is … it’s just unbelievable. We felt we needed more, not less.”
The “site security team” (SST) had already extended its stay after a request to Washington from embassy officials in February stating the soldiers’ work was “critical to [the] post’s security effort”.
“Quite simply, we cannot maintain our existing levels of embassy operations, much less implement necessary staffing increases, without a continued SST presence,” the memo said.
A State Department spokesman said that after the team’s mission ended, special security agents were deployed in their place and “maintained a constant level of security capability”.
The departure of Lt. Col. Wood’s team “had no impact whatsoever on the total number of fully trained American security personnel in Libya generally, or in Benghazi specifically,” the spokesman said.
Lt. Col. Wood, who is due to testify to a Congressional inquiry on the attack on Wednesday, said he did not know if his team could have prevented the deadly Sept 11 attack if it had remained in place.
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