Utah Army commander Lt. Col. Andrew Wood sought more security before deadly attack in Libya
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah National Guardsman who headed an elite security force in Libya will tell a congressional committee Wednesday that his requests for more resources prior to the killing of a U.S. ambassador last month went unheeded.
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood is scheduled to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on security decisions leading up to the Sept. 11 Muslim extremist terror assault on the U.S. compound at Benghazi. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues were killed in the attack.
"He was asking for more assets. He was asking for personnel. And the Obama administration denied that, and I think that plays a central role in what went wrong in Benghazi," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Chaffetz spent Saturday at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli trying to find out what happened.
Wood, a Utah Army National Guard Green Beret, led a 16-member Special Forces security team responsible for protecting Americans in Libya from February to August, including a four-month extension.
Wood, whose team was based in Tripoli, told various news outlets that he wanted the team to stay even longer.
A senior State Department official told the Associated Press that the initial extension request was granted. Despite Wood's comments, a request for an extension past August was never made, the official said.
Wood told CBS News that he met daily with Stevens to discuss security.
"He was constantly concerned about the threats to not just himself but the entire staff there," Wood said.
Over the six months leading up to the attack on Stevens, Wood says the security situation in Libya deteriorated.
There were 13 threats or attacks in Tripoli and Benghazi, including two attempted assassinations of the British ambassador to Libya.
Wood said Stevens and his staff made the case for tightened security in emails and diplomatic cables. One by one, they lost three State Department security teams, their only airplane and, eventually, his squad too.
Wood said some of the security teams would have been in Benghazi on Sept. 11 to if they had been allowed to remain in Libya, and the four deaths might have been avoided.
The State Department official said Wood's team was replaced in August by an equal number of personnel with the same skill sets. Had the security team been in Tripoli at the time of the attack in Benghazi — 630 miles away — it wouldn't have made any difference.
"They had nothing to do with Benghazi. Zero," the official told the Associated Press. "They were based in Tripoli, and they were not a quick reaction force jetting around the country."
Chaffetz criticized the Obama administration for being slow to recognize the attack as an act of terrorism. The White House and administration officials initially said the attack was a spontaneous assault tied to ongoing protests over a video made in California that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.
"I think it was clearly a preplanned attack," the congressman said.
Chaffetz said Wood will "tell it like is" at the hearing.
"I think the country will be shocked that here we should be having security dictate security. But in this case, politics was driving the security decisions, and that is just flat out wrong," he said.
In addition to Wood, Chaffetz said a second security expert will testify at the hearing.
The State Department will send two officials, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named an agency review board to determine whether security was lax. The FBI also is investigating the attack.
Chaffetz, a frequent surrogate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the campaign trial, deflected any notion that he, too, is politicizing the incident.
"We can't just punt this because there's some election coming up," he said. "We've got to to get to the bottom of it and make sure it never, ever happens again."
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