US officials quit over Benghazi report

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REUTERS

The US Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States in this September 11, 2012 file photo.

Washington - The Obama administration has been accused of a series of blunders over the killings of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three of his team in Benghazi earlier in 2012.

An independent review said the State Department was responsible for “systematic failures of leadership and management deficiencies” which contributed to the crisis. It concluded that, contrary to the official version, the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was not a popular demonstration which spun out of control, but an organised terrorist operation.

Three US State Department officials resigned in wake of the verdict. They included the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Eric Boswell; the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, Charlene Lamb; and a third official who was not named.

The review's panel, which included the former diplomat Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, the recently retired chairman of the military's chiefs of staff, found there had been no protests against an inflammatory film about the Prophet Mohammed before the attack, as the State Department had claimed. There had been, it held, a “lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels” over what took place.

The Independent disclosed at the time, following information from diplomatic sources, that the Benghazi assault had been organised by Islamist extremists. This led to a public denial by a State Department spokesman who declared it was a spontaneous outburst of anger by protesters and that there was no evidence of terrorist involvement.

The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on Wednesday that she was accepting all 29 of the panel's recommendations. “To fully honour those we lost, we must better protect those still serving to advance our nation's vital interests and values overseas,” she pledged in a letter to Congress.

State Department officials said that among measures being taken to prevent such attacks was the transfer of $1.3bn (£800m) of contingency funding which was due to be spent in Iraq for diplomatic security.

Acknowledging the report's findings that Libyan militiamen who were supposed to guard the consulate proved inadequate, officials have sent security specialists to about 20 “high-threat” missions to carry out assessments. The US has also appointed a deputy assistant secretary of state to ensure legations in risky locales receive protection. Experienced officials will be sent to these posts and stay for prolonged periods to build up local knowledge.

The panel noted that Benghazi was known to have become a trouble spot before it was decided to send Mr Stevens to the city. “Security in Benghazi was not recognised and implemented as a 'shared responsibility' by the bureaux in Washington charged with supporting the post,” the report stated.

It continued that the short-term nature of the mission's staff, many of whom were inexperienced US personnel, “resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity and mission capacity”. - The Independent


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