New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews asked Roberson if he thought the use of F-16s would have been appropriate. “Sir, in my personal opinion,” Roberson replied, “it was absolutely not.”
Others at the Pentagon backed him up during the hearings.
“Although there were threat warnings across the board, there were no specific indications of an imminent attack on facilities in Benghazi,” said Garry Reid, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict. “Our posture on that day was based on a continuous evaluation of threats and priorities.”
“Given the time and distance factors involved, dispatching an armed aircraft to Benghazi was not an option available to us at the time,” Reid said.
“The department’s response to the attacks was timely and appropriate,” he added, “but there simply was not enough time, given the speed of the attacks, for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”
Reid said that since the Benghazi attacks, the military has deployed “additional forces and positioned them for accelerated response options in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular.”
Rep. Jackie Speier asked Reid about drones that were put in operation over Benghazi, but the official said they provided little help.
“Frankly the asset overhead was of very little use to the folks on the ground,” Reid said. “It provided some awareness in the rear headquarters, but not where you could make any operational judgments or provide any real warnings.”
Those who briefed lawmakers also said it was clear very soon that the attacks were planned — and not the result of a spontaneous demonstration, as the Obama administration claimed at first.
“Initially it was somewhat uncertain to me,” said Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command.
He said that changes “as the events unfolded” and they “saw a rocket-propelled grenade attack” and “well-aimed small arms fire.”
“To me, it started to become clear pretty quickly that this was certainly a terrorist attack and not just not something sporadic,” he said.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that night,” Ham added.
Not all lawmakers found the hearings as productive as the others.
At the beginning of one hearing, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith blasted Republicans: “Without question, the Department of Defense did everything they could on that night in question… I think there are responsibilities on behalf of all of us as members of Congress to not simply take what we see on the Internet or in the media and essentially charge people at the Department of Defense.”
Smith said he would be surprised if the hearings yielded new information: “It seems to me that it is just another redundant attempt to mine the Benghazi tragedy in a political way.”