The U.S. faces a huge security problem in Libya and no doubt elsewhere as well. Libyan guards were either unable or unwilling to prevent protesters from entering the compound in Benghazi and attacking the consular building.
Most of the staff, except for the ambassador and another staff member who died at the consul site, were whisked off to a "safe house" that was supposedly in a secret location. However, that house came under sustained mortar attacks. It is clear that the attackers had knowledge of where the safe house was. More details of the attack are emerging that show how security was sorely lacking.
Security sources said that the consulate had been given a "health check" not long before the raid in case something might happen on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. When the attack actually happened the perimeter of the consul compound was breached within 15 minutes. Although there were 30 or so local guards they put up little defense. An observer, Ali Feton
, who lived nearby said:
"The security people just all ran away and the people in charge were the young men with guns and bombs."
The commander of the government-sanctioned Libya's Shield Brigade
said that it was anger over the Mohamed video which led the guards to abandon their posts:
"There were definitely people from the security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate. The deaths are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet."
This response is completely irrational. The U.S. government and certainly those in the consulate had absolutely nothing to do with the film blaspheming the prophet.
Ambassador Stevens was left in the building after staff could not find him in the dense smoke. Local people found him later unconscious and he was taken to a hospital where he died from smoke inhalation according to a doctor at the Benghazi Medical Centre, Ziad abu Ziad.
Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis Al-Sharif s
aid U.S. said staff were rushed to a Benghazi safe house following the initial attack. U.S. commando units were flown from Tripoli to evacuate the staff from there. The minister said:
"It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it. There was shooting."
Indeed the safe house came under mortar fire and two Marines were killed there. Two other people were killed at the main consular building and between 12 and 17 wounded.
Senior diplomatic sources also say that the U.S. State Department had information 48 hours before the attack that Americans might be targeted. No warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert. Probably the "health check" at the consulate was a response to those warnings.
Islamic militants have their own intelligence operatives in Libya. They seem to be much more effective than those of the U.S. and now they have valuable information as well. Probably the militants are hoping for intervention by the U.S. that is quite visible. This will help destabilize an already weak regime.
The U.S. has sent warships, more drones, and more marines and the U.S. has vowed that it will bring perpetrators of the Benghazi attack to justice.