President Barack Obama told a radio interviewer Oct. 26 that his top priority is capturing — not killing — the “folks” who attacked and killed four Americans in Libya on Sept. 11.
“My most important job as president is keeping the American people safe… and we are going to make sure, most importantly, that those who carried it out, that they are captured,” he told liberal radio host Michael Smerconish.
But the president also acknowledged links between the Libyan attackers and al-Qaida, by saying that U.S. must guard against “groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa that aspire to do jihad and terrorist attacks.”
Libya is in North Africa — not the Middle East.
Obama’s statement was made the same day the father of one of the dead Americans charged the administration with “murder” for not providing immediate aid to the compound while it was under attack.
Obama defended his handling of the Benghazi crisis, which exploded Sept. 11 when jihadis attack the lightly fortified and poorly guarded U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The initial attack killed the ambassador and an aide.
Shortly after, the jihadis attacked a CIA compound, dubbed the “annex,” that was located one mile away. That attack killed two CIA guards.
U.S. officials were in contact with the beleaguered Americans during the attacks, and watched them via a drone. However, no aid was sent from nearby airbases in Italy. A convoy of U.S. guards and Libyan soldiers reached the annex seven hours after the attack began.
Some media reports say U.S. military support was withheld to avoid antagonizing or weakening Libya’s elected government, which is divided by tribal rivalries and is currently being pressured by Islamist political parties and their allied jihadi groups. After the attack, for example, the government didn’t provide visas to the FBI’s investigative team for several weeks.
Libya’s previous government, run by dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was overthrown in 2011 by local rebels after Obama provided high-tech airpower.
Since the attack, Obama has repeatedly suggested it was caused by a mob of Muslims’ angry about an anti-Islamic YouTube produced in California
“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” he announced at the Sept. 25 General Assembly of the United Nations.
However, there was no angry mob, and numerous intelligence reports have pinned the blame on a local jihad group — Ansar al-Sharia — that had previously been identified as an affiliate of al-Qaida’s decentralized network.
Obama refuted GOP claims that the administration highlighted the video to distract attention from the compound’s lack of protection from the increasing jihadi activity in the region.
“The intelligence was coming in and evolving as more information came up,” Obama said.
“This is something the American people can take to the bank: My administration plays this stuff straight — we don’t play politics when it comes to American national security,” he insisted.
But he also downplayed military responses and emphasized law-enforcement solutions: “My biggest priority right now is bringing those folks to justice… that’s a commitment I always keep,” he said.
The one mention of “jihad” — or Islamic religious war — was overshadowed by repeated references to generic attackers, “folks” and “terrorists.”
In contrast, Gov. Mitt Romney used the Oct. 22 presidential debate to depict the attackers as “jihadists” rooted in Islam.
“The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the, the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these, these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world,” Romney said.
“We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the, the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism,” Romney said, highlighting the link between Islam and terrorism.
Obama also cited and praised the extensive U.S. use of drones to kill jihadis in Pakistan and Yemen, despite opposition from some progressives and libertarians.
“We have been able to take out 20 of the 23 top al-Qaida leadership,” he said.
“What we have done is cripple their capacity to carry out homeland attacks here in the United States… we’ve an infrastructure now where we can keep putting pressure on them and that is something I’m very proud of.”