The memo comes from the embassy’s “security support team,” a group of 16 special forces soldiers assigned to protect the embassy who were inexplicably removed from Libya in August over their commander’s objections, just one month before the attacks in Benghazi. That commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood, will testify about their removal before the House Oversight Committee this week. CBS News provides more on Wood’s story:
Speaking to CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, Wood said when he found out that his own 16-member team and a six-member State Department elite force were being pulled from Tripoli in August – about a month before the assault in Benghazi – he felt, “like we were being asked to play the piano with two fingers. There was concern amongst the entire embassy staff.”[...]ABC adds more on the leadup in its print report:
Wood insists that senior staff in Libya, including Ambassador Stevens, State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, and himself, all wanted and had requested enhanced security.
“We felt we needed more, not less,” he tells Attkisson.
Asked what response their repeated pleas got from the State Department in Washington, Wood says they were simply told “to do with less. For what reasons, I don’t know.”
“We tried to illustrate… to show them how dangerous and how volatile and just unpredictable that whole environment was over there. So to decrease security in the face of that really is… it’s just unbelievable,” Wood tells CBS News.
The State Department pushed the American diplomats to develop plans to transition its security staffing to one that incorporated more locally based assets, but its ability to do so was “severely limited by a number of factors,” the February memo states, including inconsistent support from the Libyan government, no reliable “armed, uniformed host government security at our residential and office compounds,” no “real progress on the policy framework required to support a transition to an armed locally engaged body guard force,” silence from the Libyan Minister of Interior when it came to formal U.S. “requests for firearms licenses, training sites, or static, host nation security.”It should be noted that Lieutenant Colonel Wood does not speculate as to whether his presence, or the presence of his team, would have made a difference in the protection of Ambassador Chris Stevens. However, his revelations about being “asked to play the piano with two fingers” may strike some observers as damning enough without that specific speculative indictment.
The request concludes: “Given the unstable security environment, projected staffing increases, lack of physical and technical security upgrades in place and continued high volume of VIP visits, Embassy Tripoli requests an extension” of the Security Support Team for four months, which “will allow us to implement the security transition plans recommended by the Department. A loss of SST now would severely and negatively impact our ability to achieve the Department’s policy and management objectives at this critical time in Libya’s transition.”
But ultimately the SST left and “they just had to make do with less security,” Wood told ABC News.