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by Sharon Rondeau

The House Armed Services Committee reported on Wednesday that Col. George Bristol “gave LTC Gibson initial freedom of action to make decisions in response to the unfolding situation in Benghazi….”

(Jul. 31, 2013) — The House Armed Services Committee has just released a readout of a classified briefing in which Col. George Bristol reportedly “clarified orders given to personnel on the ground responding to the attack,” referring to the September 11 terrorist attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans.

The Pentagon had reported that Bristol retired earlier this year from his post and could not be located to testify.  Bristol had served as Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, Marine Corps Forces Special  Operations Command Africa.  However, on July 19, it was announced that Bristol had been found and would be testifying to the committee in the near future.

On September 11, Bristol reported to Adm. Brian Losey, who was commander of SOCAFRICA.  Losey has since been promoted and testified to the committee on June 26 along with Lt. Col. Steve Gibson, who was in the chain of command under both Bristol and Losey.

Gibson had told the committee that he did not receive a “stand-down” order from anyone in regard to mounting a rescue mission to Benghazi after learning of the attack and imminent danger to U.S. personnel in the compound.  Gibson’s statements are refuted by the earlier testimony of Gregory Hicks, former charge d’affaires in Libya following the death of Amb. Christopher Stevens, who told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that two “stand-down” orders were given.  Hicks said that one of the orders, which was given to Gibson, resulted in Gibson’s having become “furious.”

Gen. Carter Ham (Ret.), former commander of AFRICOM, also testified in the June 26 classified briefing. He has been quoted as having made conflicting statements about the military response or lack thereof on the night of the attack.

Of Bristol’s testimony, the committee report states, in part:

Col Bristol confirmed to the committee that, in his role as Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara Commander, he gave LTC Gibson initial freedom of action to make decisions in response to the unfolding situation in Benghazi.  Bristol elaborated that Gibson’s orders changed over time, as conditions on the ground evolved.  LTC Gibson previously testified to the committee that, contrary to some reports, he was at no point ordered to “stand down” but rather to remain in Tripoli to defend American embassy there in anticipation of possible additional attacks and to assist the survivors as they returned from Benghazi. Colonel Bristol confirmed this account of events.


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