Military response to Benghazi attack questioned

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, gestures during their joint news conference at the Pentagon, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Panetta said the U.S. military did not intervene during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya last month because it was over before the U.S. has sufficient information on which to act. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(CBS News) U.S. military forces were alerted when terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month.

The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. It was the anniversary of 9/11.

On Thursday, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, asked the Obama administration for details of military options that might have been considered that night. It's all become controversial in light of the election.

Two and a half hours after the attack began, an unarmed predator drone was diverted from a surveillance mission over another part of Libya to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

That, plus a second unarmed drone dispatched four hours and 15 minutes later, were the only U.S. military forces sent to the scene of the attack. Commandos were dispatched from Europe to an air field in Sigonella, Sicily, but by the time they got there the attack in Benghazi was over.

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday defended the U.S. military response, saying the situation on the ground was too confusing.

"You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's on, without having some real time information about what's taking place," Panetta said.

He said senior officers, including Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. commander for Africa, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all opposed military intervention.

"General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation," Panetta said.

When asked whether they had forces on any heightened alert in that area because of the approaching 9/11 anniversary, Panetta said they did.

Gen. Dempsey added: "And let me point out, it was 9/11 everywhere in the world."

Defense officials say a general alert had been issued to U.S. forces worldwide, but no special alert had been ordered for Libya because there was no intelligence predicting an attack.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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