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Opening Statement of Sen. Carl Levin Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Attacks on U.S. Facilities at Benghazi, Libya

Location: Washington, DC

Good morning. Today the committee welcomes the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to testify about the Department of Defense's response to the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. temporary mission facility and annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11th and 12th of last year and the findings of its internal review following that attack, including lessons learned from Benghazi.

Before we begin, I want to remind my colleagues that we will receive testimony next Tuesday morning on the impacts of sequestration and/or a full-year continuing resolution on the Department of Defense. Our witnesses will be the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Department's Comptroller, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I hope today's hearing will inform this committee of any changes that have been made or are being proposed to the posture of U.S. forces overseas to respond to similar terrorist attacks in the future; and DoD's assessment of the recommendations included in the Secretary of State's Accountability review Board that affect DoD's installations or operations overseas.

In November, DoD released a timeline of its response to the deadly assault on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi, including decisions made on the deployment of various forces based in the United States or overseas. A copy of this timeline will be included in the record. According to the timeline, within 20 minutes of the assault on the State Department's temporary mission facility, the Department's first action was to redirect an unmanned surveillance platform from a mission over Darna, Libya, to provide better awareness of the events on the ground in Benghazi. Following consultations at the White House, Secretary Panetta convened a series of meetings in the Pentagon to discuss options for expanding DoD's response, as well as to prepare for the potential outbreak of further violence throughout the region. During these meetings, Secretary Panetta authorized a number of deployments. I hope Secretary Panetta and the Chairman will provide the committee with detail on the circumstances that led them to these decisions.

Since September, there has been a great deal of focus on the supporting role that the Marine Corps Guards play in many U.S. diplomatic missions abroad. The Marine Corps did not have an element in Benghazi as it was not an embassy, but a temporary mission facility. The committee will be closely monitoring the use of these marines. Our Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of the mission of the Marine Security Guard Program, whether it should be expanded, and to report to Congress on the results of this review. More immediately, the provision requires the Secretary to develop a plan to increase the number of marines in the Marine Security Guard Program by up to 1,000 marines to improve security at our embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic facilities. Based on Secretary Clinton's recent testimony before Congress, it is clear that the State Department and DoD are already consulting on this review.

The Secretary of State's Accountability Review Board focused on the need to ensure the State Department puts greater focus on high risk, high threat posts, as well as posts where the host nation -- despite having the will to protect diplomatic facilities -- does not have the capacity to protect them. In some cases, these posts are located in countries where DoD and the State Department have assistance programs with similar objectives. These are perhaps areas where the two departments can explore whether additional collaboration is appropriate.

During Secretary of State Clinton's recent testimony before Congress, she emphasized the importance of properly resourcing U.S. Africa Command. AFRICOM reached full operational capability less than five years ago and has been an "economy of force" effort to date. The events of last September raise questions about the adequacy of DoD's resourcing with respect to AFRICOM -- in terms of funding, assigned personnel, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. As an example, until the beginning of the current fiscal year, AFRICOM did not have a dedicated Commanders In-Extremis Force, which is an emergency standby force, but rather it shared its force with U.S. European Command. In recent years, the committee has sought to provide DoD with flexible AFRICOM-specific authorities to support the burgeoning requirements of the command, such as the African Cooperation authority, targeted train-and-equip authorities to support deployments of the African Union Mission in Somalia, and flexible military construction authorities. The committee looks forward to learning whether any additional actions might be taken to further support AFRICOM's programs and operations.

Unfortunately, to date, much of the discourse about the events surrounding the deadly attack against our facilities in Benghazi have focused on the preparation and dissemination of unclassified talking points that were prepared -- at the request of the Congress -- by our nation's intelligence professionals and approved by their most senior leadership. These talking points are relevant but even more relevant than finding out, as Secretary Clinton said, "why these militants decided" as they did, is to "find them and bring them to justice," and "do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

Since the events in Benghazi, individuals and groups with the same motivations as those that attacked the U.S. facility in Benghazi have attempted to expand their territory in the nation of Mali, as well as take hostage dozens of innocent civilians and attempt to destroy a natural gas facility in Algeria. Today, the U.S. is providing its unique enabling capabilities to the French military operations and the deployment of African forces from nations around the region. As Secretary Panetta has stated repeatedly, it is critical that the United States continue to pursue those groups and individuals seeking to attack the United States and our interests. I expect the Secretary and Chairman will provide their assessment of the threat posed by these groups to regional and international security, as well as our effort to counter their operations.

The four Americans our nation lost last September were the very best expression of what it means to be an American: hard-working, energetic, optimistic, dedicated not just to furthering the interests of their own nation, but to ensuring that others could enjoy the same freedom and opportunity that we hold so dear. We honor their sacrifice and in their name will do everything we can to prevent a repetition of Benghazi's loss.

Since this is likely Secretary Panetta's last hearing before this committee, I want to take a moment to offer my personal thanks to Secretary Panetta for his service to our country and for his leadership at the Defense Department. He has exhibited qualities of honesty, candor, humility, fair-mindedness, and a good sense of humor during his tenure as Secretary. Thank you, Leon, for your service to our nation, and for your great cooperation with this committee.

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