Obama dodges question on his role in Benghazi response

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama refused to say if he issued an immediate order to support beleaguered diplomats and CIA employees during the Sept. 11 jihadi attack on Benghazi, Libya.

“If people don’t believe we did everything we can to make sure that we save the lives to folks I sent there, and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don’t know how our Defense Department thinks, our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks,” Obama said during his first post-election press conference.

“Immediately after finding out that our folks are in danger… my orders to my security team was to do whatever we need to do to keep our people safe,” he said, without describing any details.

“I will put forward every bit of information we have,” via at least two government investigations, he added.

Late in the press event, he denounced criticism of his aide, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. She’s facing GOP criticism for promoting the claim in September that the jihadi attacks began as a protest against a California-made Youtube video that is critical if Islam’s main prophet, Mohammad.

The planned assault on the poorly fortified and poorly guarded sites killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. The attack surprised officials, even though several jihadi groups had set up bases in the small city, and launched their attack on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 strike in New York City that killed 3,000 Americans.

The question about emergency support was asked by Fox News reporter Ed Henry, amid news reports that Obama’s deputies refused to send aircraft or reinforcements into Libya without approval from the country’s weak government.

Obama met with advisers for roughly an hour during the attack, and apparently delegated the task of responding to the attack to the Pentagon.

Obama’s answer did not explain if he had set limits on the Pentagon’s rescue efforts. For example, he may have told officials not to send aircraft or reinforcements into the country out of fear they would undermine the weak government, and cause an obvious jihadi takeover of a country freed from dictatorship by Obama’s intervention.

The Libyan government is already under political, religious and military pressure from jihadi groups in the capital city and in the countryside. Those jihadi groups formed during the 2010-2011 civil war, when Obama sent combat aircraft — but no ground troops — to destroy the anti-Islamist dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi. (RELATED: Obama to Republicans on Benghazi: ‘Go after me,’ not UN ambassador)

There may be other reasons for Washington’s slow response to the assault.

For example, Fox News has reported that jihadi prisoners were secretly held and interrogated in the CIA’s annex in Benghazi, which was located a short distance away from the State Department’s compound.

If true, that would be an political embarrassment and a foreign policy problem for Obama, because it would show that Obama had secretly emulated President George Bush’s anti-terror policies, which Obama heavily criticized during the 2008 campaign.

The CIA denied the Fox News report.

Follow Neil on Twitter