In his first visit to Benghazi in almost a year, Ambassador Stevens arrived on September 10th, with Sean Smith and two Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agents. The only other Americans in the compound were three additional DSS personnel assigned there temporarily. In total, seven Americans with four local militia guards were left to promote diplomacy in one of the most hostile and unstable places on earth.
Stevens’s main mission was to promote diplomatic relations with local government officials and pass assessments of Libya’s fragile state of affairs back to Washington. He took one meeting in town on the 10th, but on the 11th, all his appointments were conducted inside the compound as a security measure. The following events are true to the best of our knowledge, and many of the details have never been disclosed before.
Around 7:40pm, the ambassador escorted a Turkish diplomat to the compound’s main gate. Shortly after, around 8pm, a team of UK diplomatic security professionals dropped off borrowed vehicles and equipment, as had been the arrangement since the UK had suspended diplomatic operations in June 2012 due to the increased threat level.
At 9pm, the ambassador and Sean Smith retired to their rooms for the night.
Suddenly: BOOM! A Rocket Propelled Grenade hit the front gate of the compound with thunderous force. The guard stationed at the main gate had long since fled the scene. He was attached to the Supreme Security Council (SSC). The SSC is a loose coalition of militia elements that are providing interim security in Libya. The guard would later tell local press that he drove away under instructions to avoid further civilian casualties.
At the time of the attack, the following personnel were in the compound:
• Ambassador Stevens (Ambassador’s Villa)
• Sean Smith (Ambassador’s Villa)
• 5 DSS Agents (4 in DSS Villa, 1 in Tactical Operations Center)
• 4 Local Security Hired from February 17 Marty’s Brigade (Inside the Front Gate)
The main gate was practically left open. All four of the local security hightailed it out of there, along with the SSC guard, as soon as the assault began. Though the attack was coordinated, the attackers lacked training, a fact that would later play a role in the CIA team rescue. Many of the shots fired inside the compound were fired in the air and aimed at nothing in particular, mostly due to the fact that there weren’t any targets.
The American security officer on duty in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) could see dozens of armed men entering the compound through the main gate, out of which the ambassador had escorted the Turkish diplomat only an hour earlier. He sounded the central alarm over the radios as soon as he noticed the local February 17 guards fleeing the area. It’s worth noting that the local guards hired by the State Department were armed only with bats, not with firearms of any sort; it’s no surprise they fled.
One of the other DSS agents was radioed by the officer in the TOC and asked to secure the ambassador. He grabbed his rifle and headed to the villa. Once there, he instructed Stevens and Smith to put on body armor, and then led them to a secured area in the back of the building. He locked the door and radioed back their position and that they were secure for the moment. The DSS agent was armed with an M4 assault rifle, handgun, and shotgun. Surprisingly, no shots were fired by the DSS security; this may have been due to their lack of experience and training, and, most importantly, to bad odds. The DSS agent gave his cell phone to the ambassador, who began making calls to the US embassy in Tripoli. They could hear the attackers destroying everything in their path in the adjacent rooms.
One of the remaining DSS agents ran up to the TOC while the other two, upon encountering the attacking force, barricaded themselves in a separate villa with one of the February 17 guards, whom they had run into. Still no shots had been fired in any effort to repel the attackers, most of whom were unarmed.
The attack continued, and the militia members found a stockpile of fuel containers and began to light several vehicles in the compound on fire. They entered the Ambassador’s Villa and started destroying and looting the contents. They then found the locked door behind which the Americans were hidden, and, after unsuccessful attempts to gain entry, they retreated and began pouring diesel fuel into the room. Soon a raging toxic fire was underway as the fuel was lit and burning tires were added to the blaze. None of the fires would be visible to the TOC’s security cameras until 10pm.
The Ambassador’s Villa became immersed in a thick cloud of rubber smoke. It was too much for the Americans inside, and they were forced to crawl on their hands and knees into one of the bathrooms in the rear of the building. The DSS agent attempted to ventilate the room with fresh air by opening a window, but it had the opposite effect, and essentially sucked smoke onto their position at an alarming rate. Visibility in the room was at zero, and the security agent yelled for the ambassador and Smith to follow him out of the room to another exit point. They all must have known that staying inside would mean certain death. They had no choice but to take their chances in the open, at the mercy of the attackers.
The security officer made it out of the building only to find himself alone in a hail of gun fire. He yelled for Stevens and Smith, but there was no answer. He reentered the building several times to try to locate them both, but found neither. In a last, desperate attempt to ventilate the smoke, he broke several windows before calling for help. The ambassador and Sean Smith could not be found. They wound up getting separated from each other amid the chaos, and within minutes each would suffocate from smoke inhalation.
The frenzied looting then overtook the other villas in the compound. The attackers tried but were unsuccessful at gaining entry to both the main space of the TOC and the villa safe room, where the other two DSS agents and a local guard were secure.
The Regional Security Officer (RSO) sounded the alarm and placed calls to the Benghazi CIA annex (a fortified base) and the embassy in Tripoli. In a panicked voice, he said, “We’re under attack, we need help, please send help now . . .” The call cut off. The CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS) Team Leader (TL) and Ty Woods conferred. The TL respected Ty’s experience and listened intently as he made his case for the rescue mission. Ty was the senior security operative among them, with over twenty years of Special Operations experience as a Navy SEAL. He was a seasoned GRS agent, respected and loved by all who knew him. To Ty it was a matter of principle: Americans were at risk, and it was their job to help out. He would go alone if need be, and the TL knew it.
The GRS is one among many CIA paramilitary groups. In pop culture terms, GRS agents are similar to Jason Bourne without the complex spy work. GRS agents work closely with CIA case officers and analysts to ensure that missions and security are tactically sound. Typical agents have a minimum of ten years of Special Operations experience. They come from all over: Army Green Berets, USMC Recon, Air Force Para-Rescue/Combat Controllers, and, like Ty Woods, the Navy SEALs. Agents undergo a rigorous security clearance process with a series of tests that involve shooting, small unit tactics, and driving. They are held to the highest of standards, and more than one seasoned operator has failed the CIA’s operational readiness test standards. There is also another group that is recruited to conduct what we call “static” security. These men are mostly regular military and law enforcement professionals who are highly trained in base security.
Contrary to the many media myths about Benghazi, requests for help were not denied by the Obama administration. It appears as if every informed agency and organization tried its best to give whatever help it could during the attack. As you will soon see, this would also be true at the smallest unit level, where several American patriots in Tripoli would do anything to rally to the aid of their fellow countrymen.
Ty and the TL made their case to the CIA Chief of Base (COB), but it fell on death ears. It is was told to us by GRS CIA insiders that the COB initially said absolutely not—he refused to authorize the GRS agents to conduct the rescue. Ty was relentless and assertive in his pursuit, refusing to take no for an answer; he explained that unless they did something, all of the people in that compound would be dead. A few minutes later, it became clear to the Chief of Base that Ty and the rest of the GRS team were going to go with or without his permission. It is unknown whether he relented and authorized the rescue attempt or simply turned a blind eye. Only the CIA After Action report holds that information, and it is unlikely to surface for years to come. Regardless, it was Ty Woods’s persistence and patriotic sense of moral duty that ultimately resulted in his getting the go-ahead for the rescue.
-Excerpt from the SOFREP New York Times bestseller Benghazi: The Definitive Report
The Chief of Base was later given an award for his actions by the CIA.
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