When an Ambassador is under attack or missing, the default order is an IMMEDIATE rescue. Once the alarm is sent from Benghazi, dozens of Head Quarters are notified and are in the loop in real time, including AFRICOM (Africa Command) and EUCOM (Europe Command), both located in Germany.
Without waiting for orders, they begin planning and executing rescue operations, including getting air support over Benghazi as soon as possible.
The military automatically does a lot on its own, under standing orders and standard operating procedures. The minute they see that the consulate is under attack, and the Ambassador and others are in a “safe room” hiding, it becomes TOP TOP TOP priority.
At that very moment, when the critical incident alarm messages start ringing, military steps happen on autopilot in real time. Everybody in the Navy and United States Air Force chain of command swings into a crisis contingency plan mode.
What destroyers are closest? Blackhawks? Marines? Delta is in Germany? Get them moving RIGHT NOW. Where is closest? The Sigonella Air base in Italy, just 480 miles away. It’s NATO, no permission needed, just fly.
The Pentagon says it did move a team of special operators from central Europe to the large Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy…
The ongoing consulate attack is JOB ONE, the only job. VIPs will be tossed off of planes at remote runways if they need that platform.
An In-Extremis Force is going right away to the rescue, triggered by a code-word like “Flash Traffic.”
E-mails are communicated, and emails sent during the attack have been released as unclassified.
On the top secret side however, when a code goes out, it’s like “Instant Messaging.” It is immediately responded to, and the deliveries are logged. It gets to the watch officer sitting there, and it FLASHES on his screen. He has to acknowledge receipt of it. And then there is a strict protocol for who he sends it to. He physically turns to the senior guy on watch, saying something like “This is a critical element of information. The President needs to hear this.” There are standard operating procedures.
The protocol for a critical “FLASH TRAFFIC” signal is for someone to physically contact a person in the chain of command that is supposed to determine what happens next. In the absence of permissions, you have standing orders. And one of the standing orders to a geographic combattant commander like General Ham of Africa Command is to *observe life* of American citizens.
AFRICOM manages the entire continent of Africa, and its headquarters are in Germany. Their operation-center can monitor situations in Libya in real time. They have Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, which is in Djibouti, with the capacity to get from there to Benghazi in about three hours.
General Ham, as head of AFRICOM, received an email and a “Flash Traffic” message requesting help and support as the attack was taking place. AFRICOM’s op-center would have been going through the different permutations of courses of action of who can get there the quickest.
At the lieutenant colonel level and at the colonel level of the In-Extremis Force of all these different HeadQuarters, at the State Department, everybody was saying something like: “Let’s go! Let’s get boots on the ground and kick these people’s asses and get our people.”
General Carter F. Ham, as the geographic combatant commander responsible for Libya, has been a part of that message TRAFFIC, and his Chain in Command’s In-Extremis Force (which is a Special Forces unit) also went to him, automatically. General Ham then turned to his special operations commander and said something like “I want the In-Extremis Force strip ready in five minutes.”
The In-Extremis Force is required to be always prepared to do In-Extremis Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), for its geographic responsibility. Every embassy and consulate has and practices all kinds of emergency evacuation plans, in concert with the US military. NEO is a TOP TOP TOP mission priority. When the alarm goes worldwide that an embassy or consulate is being attacked, the entire U.S. military swings into rescue mode, without waiting for any orders from the White House.
There’s always somebody ready to go, and the aircraft are always prepared to go, strip ready in the Sigonella Air Base. They would have the assets to penetrate the airspace, an MC-130, which is a AC-130U spectre gunship specially equipped with electronic countermeasures.
But one thing they CANNOT DO without explicit orders from the President of the United States is cross an international border. That is the big “red line.” The only way that an immediate rescue operation DOESN’T happen is if an explicit order to stand down is given, and it must come from Washington, from the very, very top.
So the rescue began at full speed, planes, jets and helicopters are scrambling, Commando Teams embarking, ships and destroyers moving into position, all as if they are going full speed ahead to Benghazi. BUT on the way, they need a PERMISSION to cross some borders. And only the President can authorize a cross-border mission with armed forces.
The military cannot on their own say-so cross an international border for a hostile mission without an order from the National Command Authority, and that means the President. No General or Admiral will order the Marines ashore, or a Delta raid, or even an F-18 or F-16 low-level supersonic flyby. Not even the State Secretary alone can make that decision. Only the President can authorize a cross-border hostile mission, guns clear. All the President of the United States has to do is NOT grant CROSS-BORDER AUTHORITY, and the entire armada of military rescue —already in progress–must STOP in its tracks. Ships can loiter on station, but planes must be redirected to an air base like Sigonella in Sicily to await the President’s decision on granting CROSS-BORDER AUTHORITY.
— Two Navy destroyers already in the Mediterranean Sea were moved off the coast of Libya on the day of the attack but were never used.
If this authorisation never comes, the men in Behghazi must rely only on assets already “in country” in Libya, such as the Tripoli Quick Reaction Force and the Predator Drones. The CIA in Tripoli could send what motley crew they had (“eight from Special Operations were sent from Tripoli”), but all of the other external military Quick Reaction Force then streaming toward Behghazi from all points had to turn around in the end.
A Special Operations team, or CIF which stands for Commanders in Extremis Force, operating in Central Europe had been moved to Sigonella, Italy, but they were never told to deploy.
Only the President could authorize them to cross the international border, and he didn’t.
After hearing the report, Obama made a “no cross border military action” decision with Dempsey, Panetta, Biden and Hillary in the Oval Office at 5 pm. DC time, as reported. No CROSS-BORDER AUTHORITY was to be granted. That constitutes a “standing order,” and a “standing order” stands until the President changes it. If Obama said “No cross border rescue” and then disappeared, with Axlerod and Jarrett saying, “Sorry, he’s not available,” to everybody down to General Ham, then the order stands.
From the Oval Office, Obama apparently went down below to the Situation Room, into the command vortex, where dozens of people are reporting new messages and requests. He took the elevator down. But he still ended up going to bed with a missing ambassador, and his “no outside military intervention” standing orders held for the rest of the night while he slept.
This attack went on for seven hours. Our fighter jets could have been at our Benghazi mission within an hour. Our Special Forces out of Sigonella could have been there within a few hours.
That constitutes “STANDING ORDERS” all the way down the chain of command via Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey to the Commander of United States Africa Command General Carter F. Ham and the subordinate commands trying to rescue the men in Benghazi.
If Obama then goes upstairs to the family quarters to watch TV or sleep, or otherwise makes himself “unavailable,” then his last standing orders will stand until he changes them. NOBODY in the Chain of Command below him can countermand his “standing orders” not to send military forces from outside of Libya into Libyan air space.
The State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be in the Situation Room with the President soon after a critical incident like this begins, so all decisions can be made in *real time*.
Directions for military operations emanate from the National Command Authority, a term used to collectively describe the President and the Secretary of Defense. http://www.defense.gov/about/dod101.aspx
The US Military was inbound full-steam-ahead to make the rescue, and all it needed from the President was a “PROCEED” order. Instead, the In-Extremis Force was turned down by President Obama at his five p.m. Eastern time meeting with the principals.
Obama went to bed while his Ambassador was still missing and presumed kidnapped by Al Quaeda, and might have been on his way to appear on a Youtube video pleading for his life, ready to get executed à la Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl.