WASHINGTON -- The U.S. response to the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a year ago would have been faster if military assets now in place to deal with such a crisis had been forward postured and placed on alert status at that time, a senior Defense Department official with responsibility for special operations told Congress Sept. 19.
Gary Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee that additional Marine security guards have been dispatched to U.S. missions in high-risk areas, and that the Marine Corps has stood up a security augmentation unit to provide trained detachments available for worldwide deployment on short notice when requested.
"At the request of the Department of State, Marines from these units were sent to eight posts in advance of the Sept. 11 anniversary last week," Reid said, adding that the deployment reflects a shift in strategy "from simply reacting to crises to proactively addressing potential crises."
Yesterday's hearing was held to review changes DOD has made to ensure the military is positioned to respond quickly to threats or attacks like the one on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a year ago that killed the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. In February, Leon E. Panetta, who was defense secretary at the time of the Benghazi attack, told Congress "this was, pure and simple, a problem of distance and time," in explaining why military assets were not able to provide quick assistance.
Reid was asked to list the most significant changes that have emerged from the lessons learned since the Benghazi attack.
"Putting tailored response forces in closer proximity to the area of a most anticipated need [and] dedicating airlift to those assets," he replied, adding that he believes significant progress had been made in getting the balance right.
"I want to underscore that we are more ready than ever to respond to a crisis or attack if one occurs without warning," he added.
A year after the tragic events in Libya, Reid said, the chiefs of mission at U.S. outposts where threat levels are considered high "have our best estimate of response times to inform their decisions about adjustments to staff presence in times of increased security threats."
In addition, he said, the United States continues to work with forces from less-capable host nations to help them carry out their obligations to protect U.S. missions.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Darryl Roberson, vice director for operations for the Joint Staff, said at the same hearing that some countries that have experienced the Arab Spring, including Libya, are incapable of providing any security for American facilities.
"We are working very hard to try to increase the capacity of the host nations," said Roberson, who also noted that because of gaps in security, the United States recently withdrew personnel from embassies in several Middle Eastern countries.