Ambassador Stevens killed at site with no Marines
The Pentagon is now sending an elite team of Marines to reinforce the embassy. | AP Photo
The consulate where the American ambassador to Libya was killed on Tuesday is an “interim facility” not protected by the contingent of Marines that safeguards embassies, POLITICO has learned.
Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed with three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the city of Benghazi, where Libyan rebels ousted strongman Moammar Qadhafi last year.
A defense official told POLITICO on Wednesday that the Pentagon is sending an elite team of about 50 additional Marines, called a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, to reinforce the embassy.
A senior administration official Wednesday called the Benghazi consulate “an interim facility,” which the State Department began using “before the fall of Qadhafi.” It was staffed Tuesday by Libyan and State Department security officers. The consulate came under fire from heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at about 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday. By the time the attack ended several hours later, four Americans were dead and three others had been injured.
The Benghazi consulate had “lock-and-key” security, not the same level of defenses as a formal embassy, an intelligence source told POLITICO. That means it had no bulletproof glass, reinforced doors or other features common to embassies. The intelligence source contrasted it with the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt – “a permanent facility, which is a lot easier to defend.” The Cairo embassy also was attacked Tuesday.
American officials fear that a little-known Internet video linked with an extremist Florida pastor may have inflamed Muslim sentiments across North Africa. A second senior administration official said Wednesday that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking U.S. uniformed officer, called the pastor Wednesday to ask him to withdraw his support for the video, but the pastor was “noncommittal.”
The Florida religious leader, Terry Jones, has tangled with the Pentagon before – former Defense Secretary Robert Gates phoned him in 2010 to ask him not to burn a Koran in an anti-Islamic demonstration. He agreed then, but later burned a copy of the Muslim holy book earlier this year.
President Barack Obama said the United States would step up security at its diplomatic missions around the world.
According to press reports Wednesday, the attack on Benghazi may have been launched by terrorists linked to al Qaeda, who may have sparked or otherwise taken advantage of protests over an anti-Islamic video posted online. CNN reported that the U.S. could begin using unmanned surveillance aircraft to look for terrorist training camps nearby.
The second administration official said Wednesday that the Defense Department “was ready to respond with military measures as directed by the president.”