The most intense questioning came from Republicans, including McCain, who insisted that the military response had been inadequate because U.S. forces were at a base in Crete, which he said was only a 90-minute flight away from Benghazi.
Others, including Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., echoed the notion of inadequacy.
As the questioning intensified, Panetta noted that there were 281 credible threats against U.S. installations on Sept. 11, the day of the attack. Dempsey insisted that many of them had appeared to need as much attention as those directed at Benghazi.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., asked why the military did not send F-16 fighters to Benghazi in the hours after the attack.
“For a couple of reasons,” the Joint Chiefs chairman replied. “This is the middle of the night now. These are not aircraft on strip alert. They’re there as part of our commitment to NATO and Europe. And so, as we looked at the timeline, it was pretty clear that it would take up to 20 hours or so to get them there.
“Secondly, senator, importantly, it was the wrong tool for the job.”
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Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the emphasis should be to find the consulate attackers “and bring them to justice, and to do everything that we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”
In fact, the military leaders agreed that the only appropriate security in Benghazi would have had to have come from “boots on the ground.” U.S. troops at that time were at a stage of readiness known as “N Plus 6”, which means that from the time of notification, they had six hours to get to the aircraft and be ready to deploy. Travel time to Benghazi would have been on top of that.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked: “If — and again this is a hypothetical — at 9:42 p.m. you had received a direct order to have boots on the ground to defend our men and women there, what is the absolute fastest that could have been carried out?”
“Best case,” Dempsey said, “between 13 and 15 hours.”
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