Two CIA paramilitary officers recounted Tuesday the harrowing story of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, testifying in the trial of alleged assault commander Ahmed Abu Khatta.
Appearing in federal court wearing what a judge described as a “light disguise,” the CIA veterans described how they traveled from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to the agency’s annex in Benghazi, arriving just minutes before militants began shelling the compound with mortars.
“We came in and a few minutes later all hell broke loose,” said one CIA officer, who testified under the pseudonym Alexander Charles, according to Politico.
“Maybe eight minutes since we arrived, they used mortars … You can feel the whole ground shaking … The building itself, the walls start falling apart, big blocks of cement falling,” he added.
Charles and another officer who testified under the pseudonym Roy Edwards were part of a joint CIA-military team that responded to the attack on the U.S. special mission compound that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and State Department computer technician Sean Smith. The team from Tripoli chartered a small jet for $30,000 and flew to Benghazi to support the surviving American personnel, who had managed to flee the burning compound and take refuge at the CIA annex about a mile away.
As the CIA officers recounted during their testimony, that’s when fighters under Khattala’s command launched a second full-scale assault, this time with precise, deadly mortar fire.
“It’s a pretty horrifying thing,” Edwards said. “I would say you get used to it … but I knew were were taking fire and it was bad.”
It was the mortar blasts that felled two of the CIA officers’ colleagues: security contractors Tyrone Woods, who was part of the Benghazi-based CIA team that had responded to the special mission compound, and Glen Doherty, who arrived with the reinforcements from Tripoli. Woods and Doherty had taken fighting positions on the roof of one CIA building when shells began raining down, killing both almost instantly.
“It didn’t register right away … He said, ‘Bub’s dead, move to the other medic,'” Edwards said, describing his disbelief when he was told that Doherty had been killed. “I grabbed Ty [Woods] by the pants and dragged him 15 [feet] to the ladder. He expired during that time.”
Diplomatic Security Special Agent David Ubben, who had been helping the CIA contractors defend the annex, was gravely wounded by the explosion. Thanks to quick medical intervention by CIA security personnel, Ubben survived a horrific leg injury and was evacuated along with the rest of the Americans to the Benghazi airport.
In the aftermath of the attacks, the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came under fire for their handling of the incident. Administration officials intially blamed the attacks on spontaneous protests insipred by a YouTube video, but it was later revealed that U.S. officials knew almost immediately that the assault was a pre-planned operation.
Khattala, who was captured by U.S. forces at a villa near Benghazi in 2014, is facing multiple criminal charges, including conspiracy to murder four Americans and to destroy U.S. property. Security video shows Khattala at the scene of the diplomatic compound after it was attacked, but no evidence has yet been presented connecting him to the attack on the CIA annex.
An informant is expected to implicate Khattala in both attacks, reports Politico.
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