The September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was unprecedented in its ferocity and intensity, and represents a turning point in US’s security reality akin to 9/11, a former State Department chief security consultant will tell Congress on Wednesday.
In a prepared statement published by Foreign Policy ahead of a congressional hearing, Eric Allan Nordstrom, who served as the Regional Security Officer in Libya from September 2011 to July 2012, describes the “the ferocity and intensity of the attack” on the US consulate in Benghazi as “nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service.”
Another security official, Lt. Col, Andrew Wood, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that U.S. security was so weak that in April, only one U.S. diplomatic security agent was stationed in Benghazi.
Wood, who is a member of the Utah National Guard, said, “The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there.”
“The situation remained uncertain and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse. Diplomatic security remained weak. In April there was only one U.S. diplomatic security agent stationed there,” he said. “The RSO (regional security officer) struggled to obtain additional personnel there but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with,” Wood added.
Nordstrom, who formerly served as a security officer with American diplomatic missions in the capitals of Honduras, Ethiopia, and India, compares the attack in his statement to other assaults on Americans serving abroad that were considered game changers in the US’s dealings around the world.
“I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country,” his statement reads.
State Department officials on Tuesday provided a detailed rundown of how a peaceful day in Benghazi devolved into a sustained attack that involved multiple groups of men armed with weapons such as machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars over an expanse of over a mile. US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other members of the diplomatic service were killed in the attack.
Despite the limited resources available to US State Department mission in Libya, and the limited resources provided by the revolutionary government, Nordstrom will testify that “the system we had in place was regularly tested and appeared to work as planned despite high turnover of DS [Diplomatic Security] agents on the ground.”
The attack on the consulate building and the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and the three other consular employees occurred in spite of the security detail’s preparations. “Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.”
Nordstrom’s statement describes the chaotic nature of post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya and the resultant challenges posed to his security detail. “With the country awash in weapons, conflicts quickly escalated to gunfights,” he wrote. “There was no single, uniformed police force under government control, and police needed support of the disparate militias in order to carry out their work. Therefore, it was difficult to get an effective police or security response to embassy requests.”
The nascent Libyan government could not provide the foreign diplomatic services with the necessary security standard expected, according to the statement: “They could not sustain that level of security for more than a couple of days. In short, Libyans wanted to help, but they had very limited capabilities to do so.”