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  1. Opinion

Column: A former Navy SEALs take on Benghazi

It is ironic that the House Select Committee on Benghazi released its report on the anniversary of Operation Red Wings, the 2005 rescue mission that was the largest one of the Afghanistan conflict. A four-man SEAL reconnaissance team was compromised and ambushed by an overwhelming enemy force. When the "troops-in-contact" call came into headquarters, the mission shifted immediately to a personnel recovery one.

Fellow SEALs boarded Army helicopters and departed on a daylight Quick Reaction Force rescue operation despite the obvious danger and numerous unknowns on the ground. Americans were desperately fighting for their lives, and "leave no man behind" is an operating principle that needs no explanation to anyone in the military.

One rescue helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing everyone on board including eight Navy SEALs and eight Army air crew. That we lost 16 men trying to save four others was tragic, but it was accepted as how we in the special operations community do business. A reaction force always on standby to launch at a moment's notice is standard operating procedure.

Compare that response to the State Department's on Sept. 11, 2012, in Libya from the Benghazi report timeline and actions taken by the department's leadership.

As initial reports came in on the consulate attack, the priority was obviously not on "leaving no man behind."

• 3:42 p.m. in Washington/9:42 p.m. Benghazi. The consulate attack commenced. The State Department informs the White House at 4:05 p.m.

• 5 p.m./11 p.m. President Barack Obama orders Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to "Do everything possible to save Americans." Panetta ordered military assets to Benghazi, but only unarmed drones deployed immediately to Libya, showing a live feed of the aftermath of the consulate attack and the defense of the annex in real time.

• 7:30 p.m./1:30 a.m. The White House convened a "deputies" meeting with State, the Pentagon and the intelligence community on the U.S. response to the attacks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the ranking official present. With the status of the Ambassador Chris Stevens and Foreign Service officer Sean Smith still unknown, the two-hour meeting focused on how not to offend Libyans if American forces deployed, what our military assets should be wearing, and an anti-Muslim YouTube video. None of the resulting action items discussed deploying rescue forces.

There was no directive from the secretary of state to deploy the Foreign Emergency Support Team — the only interagency, on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide. The team, designed specifically to respond to embassy or consulate attacks, assesses the crisis and coordinates the government response. Only the president and the secretary of state can order a deployment, but the deputies never considered that option before the truth on the ground had been established in Benghazi.

• 10 p.m./4 a.m. Former Navy SEAL Ty Woods and his team had evacuated the consulate survivors; fellow SEAL Glen Doherty's Quick Reaction Force had arrived to help defend the CIA annex. Sean Smith was confirmed dead; Ambassador Stevens was still unaccounted for and missing.

• 10:08 p.m./5:08 a.m. Clinton puts out the first official U.S. government response to the Benghazi attack. "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. … Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet."

• 11:15 p.m./6:15 a.m. In Benghazi, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty were killed defending the embattled American outpost waiting for the U.S. cavalry that was never coming.

On the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and throughout the crisis, no military forces were deployed to Benghazi. American F-16s stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy, less than two hours away, were never put on alert. The Marine Corps' Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company in Spain did not deploy that night but did change out of their uniforms into civilian clothes and back again four times on the tarmac waiting for a military transport plane to arrive from Germany. Africa Command's U.S. Army Special Forces repositioned to a Navy base in Italy, only to wait for orders. And the Foreign Emergency Support Team, specifically created for this kind of terrorist incident, was never authorized to deploy.

Apparently, a career politician who once touted her national security credentials as making her better prepared to handle the 3 a.m. phone call than anyone as a future commander in chief decided that doing nothing when American lives and our mission in Libya were at stake was her best option.

Dan O'Shea, a former Navy SEAL officer and Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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