U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. /CBS NEWS
The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa.
The account from Gregory Hicks is in stark contrast to assertions from the Obama administration, which insisted that nobody was ever told to stand down and that all available resources were utilized. Hicks gave private testimony to congressional investigators last month in advance of his upcoming appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday.
According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound "when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, 'you can't go now, you don't have the authority to go now.' And so they missed the flight ... They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it."
No assistance arrived from the U.S. military outside of Libya during the hours that Americans were under attack or trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles.
Hicks told congressional investigators that if the U.S. had quickly sent a military aircraft over Benghazi, it might have saved American lives. The U.S. Souda Bay Naval Base is an hour's flight from Libya.
"I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them," Hicks testified. Two Americans died in the morning mortar attack.
Obama administration officials have insisted that no military resources could have made it in time. A White House official told CBS News that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies."
Hicks is expected to be the first ground-level eyewitness to speak publicly in the nearly eight months since the terrorist attacks that killed Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. When Stevens went missing, Hicks became the Chief of Mission for the U.S. in Libya.
Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially indicated the attacks were not planned acts of terror, but an outgrowth of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic YouTube video. Unidentified government officials removed references to terrorism and al Qaeda from so-called "talking points" released to the public shortly after the attacks.
Below are the released excerpts from Hicks' April interview with congressional investigators on the House Oversight Committee.
Q: But do you think, you know, if an F-15, if the military had allowed a jet to go fly over, that it might have prevented [the second attack]?
A: Yeah, and if we had gotten clearance from the Libyan military for an American plane to fly over Libyan airspace. The Libyans that I talked to and the Libyans and other Americans who were involved in the war have told me also that Libyan revolutionaries were very cognizant of the impact that American and NATO airpower had with respect to their victory. They are under no illusions that American and NATO airpower won that war for them. And so, in my personal opinion, a fast-mover flying over Benghazi at some point, you know, as soon as possible might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night.
Q : The theory being, the folks on the ground that are doing these -- committing these terrorist attacks look up, see a heavy duty airplane above, and decide to hightail it?
A: I believe that if -- I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.