A retired U.S. general came under sharp criticism from a Republican committee chairman Thursday after testifying that the Obama administration reacted weakly to the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, the star witness at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, testified that U.S. forces “should have tried” to get to the outpost in time to help save the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He blamed the State Department for not making stronger requests for action.
A few hours later, the powerful chairman of the Armed Services panel, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., challenged the testimony of Lovell, who was in U.S. Africa Command’s headquarters in Germany monitoring the attack.
The general “did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken,” McKeon said.
The disagreement muddied a Republican attempt to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, assault by armed militants. The GOP has accused the administration of downplaying a terrorist attack just weeks before the election.
Lovell testified that it was clear that the attack was hostile action and not a protest run amok, as the Obama administration initially described it.
“Four individuals died. We obviously did not respond in time to get there,” he said.
“There was a lot of looking to the State Department for what it was that they wanted, and in the deference to the Libyan people and the sense of deference to the desires of the State Department,” he said.
Asked whether the military was allowed to adequately respond, Lovell said it was not. “The military could have made a response of some sort,” he said.
McKeon’s statement disputed Lovell’s assertions based on his committee’s interviews with more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command and its review of thousands of pages of transcripts, emails and other documents.
“We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources the Defense Department had available to respond,” McKeon said.