My last post detailed the deteriorating security situation in Libya in the lead-up to the September 2012 attack that resulting in the deaths of four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Today I want to present a consolidated timeline of the attack. This timeline is taken from the various official sources detailed in Appendix I. Subsequent posts will use the timeline to delve into specific aspects of the attack where there are questions (legitimate and otherwise) about the official story.
Benghazi Facilities and Resources
There are two facilities involved in the events of September 11th/12th, 2012:
- The U.S. Special Mission Compound/Consulate. This facility is a walled compound about 100 yards wide and 300 yards long with a few buildings. At the time of the attack there were seven Americans at the SMC: Ambassador Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith and five diplomatic security (DS) agents.
- The CIA Annex. Details of the facility and the operations run out of it are unclear. All official reports simply indicate that it was owned by ‘another agency’. It seems fairly likely that this was actually a CIA facility – many none-official sources indicate this to be the case. It is also not clear exactly how many people were present at the Annex when the attack commenced but the general consensus seems to be around 20 people. It also appears that the majority of these individuals were DOD or CIA trained assets.
These facilities are only one kilometer from each other as can be seen in this Google map screenshot (click here for the interactive map):
Timeline of Attack (All times local Benghazi time)
- September 10th, 2012. Stevens arrives at the Special Mission Compound (SMC) in Benghazi. There are five Diplomatic Security (DS) agents with him in addition to the four members of the February 17th Martyrs’ Brigade militia assigned to protect the SMC. Information Management Officer Sean Smith is also at the SMC.
- September 11th, 2012: 21:42. Security video reveals dozens of armed individuals suddenly entering the SMC through the main gate. The February 17th milita members have already fled. The alarm is sounded and the Annex and Embassy Tripoli are notified immediately of the attack. The Annex is close enough that personnel there have heard the initial gunfire and are already preparing to respond. Ambassador Stevens and Smith are secured in the main consulate building’s safe area with one of the DS agents. Stevens immediately begins to use his cell phone to call local contacts and Embassy Tripoli for assistance.
- 21:45. Embassy Tripoli sets up a command center and notifies Washington. A six person response team (including two military personnel) is dispatched from Embassy Tripoli to Benghazi.
- 21:50. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in Tripoli reaches Stevens who reports that the SMC is under attack before the call drops.
- 21:45-22:00. Armed intruders use fuel cans to start fires in several buildings including the main building where Stevens is located.
- 21:59. AFRICOM and DOD redirect an unarmed surveillance drone to Benghazi.
- 22:00. As the main building fills with smoke the DS agent tries to lead Stevens and Smith out of the building. In the zero visibility environment they get separated. After exiting the building (at which point he is taking fire) the DS agent realizes he has lost Stevens and Smith. The DS agent reenters the building several times to try and locate them without success due to the smoke.
- 22:05. The Annex response team departs with 6 security personnel (DOD and CIA) and a translator in two vehicles for the SMC. Along the way they attempt to obtain heavy weapons and assistance from local militias – these efforts are not successful. The team takes heavy fire en-route. At the same time three DS agents at the SMC have managed to reach the main building and begin searching for Stevens in the smoke filled building and are assisting the original DS who is vomiting and losing consciousness from smoke inhalation. At this point the first group of attackers have receded.
- 22:05. An OPS ALERT is issued to inform senior State Department officials, the White House situation room etc. of the attack.
- 22:25. The Annex response team arrives at the SMC and engages in a 15 minute firefight.
- 22:32. Secretary of Defence Panetta and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey are informed of situation. They are already at the White House for a previous scheduled meeting
- 22:40. Annex team arrives at the SMC’s main building and links up with the SMC DS agents. Smith’s body is recovered from building (deceased due to smoke inhalation).
- 23:00 Panetta and Dempsey meet with the President and discuss the situation and potential responses.
- 23:10. First surveillance drone arrives overhead.
- 23:15 The original SMC personnel depart for the Annex in an armored car. They take heavy fire on the way and need to detour. They arrive at the Annex at 23:30. The Annex team stays at the SMC to continue the search for Stevens and weathers a second assault wave of small arms and RPGs. After several attempts to recover Stevens and on the verge of being overrun, they retreat back to the Annex.
- September 12th, 2012. 00:00-01:01. The Annex comes under attack with intermittent small arms fire and RPGs.
- 00:00-02:00. SecDef Panetta mets with senior DOD officials. Directs a response of three actions authorized at 02:39:
- One Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) platoon stationed in Rota, Spain to deploy to Benghazi and a second FAST platoon to prepare to deploy to Tripoli. Only one FAST platoon will arrive in Libya and not until the evening of September 12th.
- U.S. European Command’s In-extermis Force (which happened to be training in Central Europe) to deploy to a staging base in Southern Europe. Won’t arrive at the staging location in Sicily until the evening of September 12th.
- Special operations force in the U.S. to deploy to the staging base in Sicily. This team arrives in Sicily the evening of the 12th.
- 00:06. Second OP alert indicates an Al Qaeda linked group is claiming responsibility for attack.
- 00:30. Six person security team from Embassy Tripoli departs on a charter aircraft for Benghazi.
- 01:15. Six person security team from Embassy Tripoli arrives at Benghazi airport. They are held at the airport for three hours while they negotiate with Libyan authorities about logistics.
- 02:00. Embassy Tripoli gets a call that Stevens’ body is at the Benghazi Medical Center (BMC) and is deceased. His body is later reported to have arrived at BMC at 01:15.
- 05:00. A second surveillance drone directed to relieve first drone which is still overhead.
- 05:04. The six person security team from Embassy Tripoli arrives at the Annex.
- 05:15 – 05:26. A mortar and RPG attack on the Annex kills two and wounds two U.S. security personnel.
- 06:00. Libyan forces arrive at the Annex with about 50 vehicles to escort the Americans to the airport.
- 06:30. All U.S. personnel evacuate to Benghazi airport.
- 07:30. The wounded and some other U.S. personnel leave Benghazi airport on a chartered jet for Tripoli.
- 08:25. Stevens’ body is delivered to Benghazi airport by local ambulance.
- 10:00. A Libyan Air Force C-130 departs Benghazi airport with all remaining U.S. personnel and the four bodies.
- 11:30. The Libyan Air Force C-130 lands in Tripoli.
Appendix I – Resources
- The December 2012 Department of State Accountability Review Board (ARB) report that is the official word as far as the Department of State is concerned.
- The December 2012 Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report with 10 specific findings many of which directly contradict the ARB report.
- The April 2013 House Republican interim report which provides detailed timelines of the attack as well as describing the many security deficiencies and generally deteriorating security situation in Libya leading up to the attack.
- The May 2013 Department of Defence official timeline of the attack.
- The May 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks, Eric Nordstrom and Mark Thompson before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. This testimony from the people on the ground directly involved with the events that unfolded directly contradicts the ARB in many details.
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