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U.S. envoy: Request for fighter jets in Benghazi denied

WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) — The No. 2 U.S. envoy in Libya during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi told investigators his request for fighter jets was denied.

Greg Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, also said he thought it was a terrorist strike “from the get-go” and he wasn’t alone in that line of thinking.

“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” Hicks told House Oversight Committee investigators in an excerpt of a closed-door interview released on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.”

The material from Hicks was provided by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat, is to testify before Issa’s committee publicly Wednesday about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks.

A partial transcript released by congressional investigators indicates Hicks requested an aircraft overflight in Benghazi but was turned down, The Washington Post reported.

“If we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the [CIA] annex in the morning, because I believe the Libyans would have split,” Hicks said. “They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.”

Hicks said he called the embassy’s defense attache, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, to inquire about the viability of sending jets, asking, “Is there anything coming?”

Phillips told Hicks the nearest planes were in Italy.

“The answer was, it’s too far away, there are no tankers, there is nothing, there is nothing that could respond,” he said.

The 11:30 a.m. hearing, titled “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” is also to include Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counter-terrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.

The Benghazi attacks killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Ten others were injured.

On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told five major Sunday U.S. interview shows, including “Face the Nation,” the attacks evolved from “spontaneously inspired” demonstrations outside the mission. Those demonstrations were spawned by violent protests that day at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Rice said.

The Cairo protests, which spread to other Arab and Muslim nations and to some Western countries, were against a 14-minute anti-Islamic video titled “Innocence of Muslims.” More than 75 deaths and hundreds of injuries are blamed on the protests.

Two days after Rice spoke, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters: “I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a pre-planned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence.”

Issa told “Face the Nation,” “Clearly, there was a political decision to say something different than what was reasonable to say.”

“Face the Nation” said Hicks told investigators he called Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones the morning after Rice’s Sunday show appearances to ask why Rice said the attacks were spontaneous.

Hicks said Jones told him, “I don’t know,” the program said.

Issa was asked on the show whether he thought U.S. officials were trying to cover up the fact that the State Department had turned down requests from U.S. diplomats in Libya for more security at the Benghazi mission.

“Well perhaps in part,” Issa said. “But it does seem like it’s bigger than that.

“There was this normalization, sort of a mentality, where you had to pretend like things were safe. The war on terror was over and that may have gone in a great way to getting people to say well, we can’t call this a terrorist attack because then, the war on terror is back alive.”

Wednesday’s House hearing is expected to focus on claims in a Republican committee report the State Department softened public statements about the attack to play down the terrorist connection, The Washington Post said.

An independent inquiry into the attack said there were no protests in Benghazi against the anti-Islamic video before the attack, contrary to what Rice said.

The December Accountability Review Board report sharply criticized the State Department for a lack of seasoned security personnel and for relying on untested local militias to safeguard the compound.

It faulted department officials in Washington for ignoring requests for more guards and safety upgrades and for failing to adapt security procedures to a deteriorating security environment.

“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus,” the report said, resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

The State Department had no immediate comment on the “Face the Nation” report.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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