FILE In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Credit: AP
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the U.S. military did not intervene when the U.S. Consulate in Libya was under assault last month because military leaders did not have enough information about what was happening on the ground.
Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon there was no "real-time information" on which to act, even though the military was prepared to do so, CNN reported. U.S. forces had been on heightened alert because of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, but Panetta said the Benghazi assault was over before military leaders had a good handle on what was going on, according to the Associated Press.
"The basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place," Panetta said. "And as a result of not having that kind of information...[we] felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the six-hour assault, which has since been labeled a terrorist attack.
Panetta said there has been "a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on here" questioning decisions in the weeks since the attack.
“This happened within a few hours, and it was really over before we had the opportunity to really know what was happening," Panetta said.
CBS reported last week that there was an unmanned drone dispatched over the U.S. Consulate that apparently viewed the final hours of the attack.
A Defense Department official told CNN there was a drone in the air but was not directly over the area when the attack started. The official said the drone was redirected and was able to record some of what was happening, and described it as "looking down, seeing a bunch of buildings and fires, a lot of chaos on the ground."