The night of September 11, 2012, the U.S. diplomatic post and the nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, were attacked by Islamic terrorists. The ensuing two-day battle left four Americans dead: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, State Department employee Sean Smith, CIA contractor and former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, and CIA contractor and former Navy SEAL Glenn Doherty.
Failed leadership from the higher echelons of the State Department and the CIA meant the much-needed Quick Reaction Force (QRF) didn’t arrive for almost a day. A two-man Delta Force team, comprised of an Army master sergeant and a Marine, that was in nearby Tripoli, took the initiative and flew into Benghazi to provide support. The two men respectively received the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross for their actions.
In the debacle’s aftermath, much ink and many words have been devoted to who is to blame. In order to avoid a similar scenario in the future, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) have been implementing a new concept. Since November, they’ve partnered Marines from the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST) with Air Force Pararescuemen (PJ) to create a potent Search-and-Rescue QRF. PJs specialize in personnel recovery and are world-class trained medics, among numerous other special operations skills. The joint force falls under the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force–Crisis Response–Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF).
“The inclusion of these highly-qualified airmen provides SPMAGTF-CR-AF with dedicated technical rescue personnel, as well as field and in-flight paramedic capabilities,” said Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a public affairs officer for Marine Forces Europe and Africa.
However, any response that launches from Europe is bound to be frustrated by distance. Compounding that, there appears to be a lack of available air assets to deploy the force.
“Our potential problem is air lift capacity. In certain scenarios, we are not going to have enough capacity and so as opposed to right now, we are going to have to hold onto those patients much longer,” said Rear Adm. Colin G. Chinn, the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon.
The availability of air assets to transfer counter-terrorism forces has been a perennial problem in the U.S. special operations community. Throughout numerous terrorist incidents in the 1980s, the newly-established Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was often handicapped by the lack of dedicated aircraft that would transfer the commandos of Delta Force and frogmen of SEAL Team 6 to the hot spot. Years and much frustration later, JSOC now has a number of aircraft on 24/7 alert, in case it has to respond to a terrorist scenario anywhere in the world.