Panetta defends military response in Libya attack

Updated 08 February 2013
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Panetta defends military response in Libya attack

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday that the speed of the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September kept US armed forces from responding in time to save the four Americans who were killed.
Testifying for likely the last time in Congress before he steps down, Panetta defended the US military’s response on a chaotic Sept. 11 day as the Obama administration tried to assess the threat from protests in Tunisia, Egypt, the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other countries.
He insisted that there were no specific signs of an imminent attack on the diplomatic mission that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But soon after the initial attack, Panetta dispatched various military teams to Benghazi, including Marines from Spain and a special operations force that was training in Central Europe.
His testimony came after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of the US presidential campaign. Washington officials suspect militants linked to Al-Qaeda carried out the attack.
Panetta pushed back against questions about why more firepower, such as helicopter gunships or fixed-wing fighter jets were not sent. He said they were not in the vicinity and would have required at least nine to 12 hours to deploy.
“This was, pure and simple, a problem of distance and time,” Panetta said.
Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey reminded the committee that it was “9-11 everywhere” when the consulate was attacked and that US armed forces were prepared to respond to a wide variety of threats around the world.
US posts and facilities in many countries throughout Africa and southwest Asia were operating under heightened protection levels, he said.
“We positioned our forces in a way that was informed by and consistent with available threat estimates,” Dempsey said.
Panetta is retiring after a Washington career that has stretched over four decades, with years as a California congressman, budget chief, White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and CIA director who oversaw the hunt and killing of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.
The Defense Department is bidding farewell to Panetta, who has served as defense secretary since June 2011, in a ceremony on Friday. The committee gave Panetta a round of applause as Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, praised the Pentagon chief’s integrity. President Barack Obama has nominated former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta.
In his testimony, Panetta detailed the steps the military took in response to the Libya attack. He pointed out that it was not a prolonged assault that the military could have ended, but rather two short-duration attacks that occurred about six hours apart.
“Despite the uncertainty at the time, however, the Department of Defense and the rest of the United States government spared no effort to save American lives,” Panetta said.


Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

  • The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but a government spokesman said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.
  • After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue.

KABUL: The Afghan government is confident of holding peace talks with Taliban militants despite a recent surge of attacks by insurgents, a palace spokesman said.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi said the announcement last week of a brief truce by the Taliban over Eid, the increasing movement of extremists and some field commanders to government-held areas, and a call for peace by the Imam of Makkah and the Saudi monarch were the basis of the government’s optimism.

The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but Murtazawi said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.

“A new chapter has been opened and the broad support for a cease-fire and an end to the war are the causes for our optimism,” he told Arab News.

“The fact that Taliban announced a truce and their commanders came into towns and celebrated Eid with government officials are positive signs that the extremists will be ready for talks with the government.”

However, no contact has been established with leaders of the group since the militants called off their truce, Murtazawi said.

After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in a spate of attacks, including assaults on military bases where the insurgents joined government forces to celebrate Eid.

Some tribal chiefs and local officials are calling for “safe zones” where extremists can hold initial talks with the government, according to a local official who refused to be named.