Tuesday, 25 October 2016

13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Despite falling more and more behind my work programme, I decided at lunchtime  on 20th October 2016 to watch the fictional film 13 Hours, an account of the 2012 killing of the USA ambassador to Libya, J Christopher Stephens, his assistant Sean Smith Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Glen Doherty, former Navy Seal who  became a private contractor (mercenary)  participating in activities in Afghanistan Iraq, Israel, Kenya and Libya,  member of the Military Religious  Freedom Foundation and Tyrone S Woods, another trained Seal decorated for valour, who became a private contractor with Global Response  also training as a nurse and paramedic, owning a  Bar, and  who was twice married and with three children.

The film tells the story of an unofficial arm’s length group of former USA forces employed for a specific purpose who became involved in the protection of the Ambassador and the USA mission. The film 13 Hours  The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi- became available on Sky Movies on Demand and will be review after a brief account of what I  understand is the factual account of what happened and where at one level former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, the likely next President of the United States, took responsibility for the failure to provide an adequate level of security at the compound of the Ambassador, although it  must be note the attack commenced with mortar bombs launched from a mile away.  Although it is known that rioters and looters joined in the attack it has since been established that it was planned although there is controversy over the precipitating reason. The individual believed to have been behind the attack and part of the battle for power in the country following the removal of Colonel Gaddafi was subsequently captured by USA special forces in 2014. There was believed to have been no external terrorist involvement at that time although since insurgents and terrorists from Syria and Iraq and other parts of north Africa are said to have added to Libya becoming a failed state with uncertain future.   

The part which the USA and other governments within and outside the region played  in creating and developing regime change arising from the so called Arab Spring which is now the Winter of Human Misery may never fully  become public but once the 2011 revolution in Libya took place it was right the USA should immediately attempt to influence the inevitable battle for power between the various political and secular interests, and to do something about the arsenal of weaponry which the Gadhafi regime had acquired and fallen into the hands of the revolutionaries.

It is the USA State Department which is the opposite to the British Foreign Office with responsibilities for the various forms of  Embassies and official missions and the Central Intelligence Agency which matches the UK MI6 in terms of  overseas operations with the  Federal (Interstate) Bureau of Investigations broadly have the same role as the UK MI5 and where the armed service organisations have their own Intelligence and special Operational branches together with the use of arm’s length  special units, some part of international security enterprises which recruit the most highly trained and experienced personnel available and where is more open about the existence of the such operations and the problems  which arise  given that in effect the USA  is a collection of very different countries in terms of size, populations, political and religious outlooks and backgrounds and that the Presidency/White House is more about international operations than domestic policy and administration which is devolved.  In the UK the division has been between the roles the roles of the Prime Minister/ Foreign and Defence Secretaries of State. Overseas Development/Home Office and the Treasurer and the various Ministries for distribution of domestic resources and until Brexit subject to various policies and control for the European Economic Community and market[CS1] .

It is understood that by 2012 in addition to the activities of the State department and        CIA there were two special operation units which technically had no official standing. The other aspect to be mentioned is geography with Tripoli the capital and former Gaddafi regime stronghold and on the west coast close to Tunisia, Algeria and Italy and Benghazi on the East coast next to Egypt, Turkey and Greece and with a huge landmass leading to the Sahara borders with Nigeria, Chad and the Sudan, an Economic and military strong Libya could exercise significant power in North Africa, hence becoming the next major target for control by International terrorism,

This being so it could be argued that the sending of Ambassador Stephens with the plan for Hilary Clinton to visit later in the year to show support for those seeking a democratic solution for the future of the country Clinton to visit was at best ambitious and in reality and warning to those who wanted to replace one power structure with another. It is not clear to me why the State Department wanted to keep a low profile and therefore said no to pleas for added security measures given that over 200 security were registered with some 50 in Benghazi.

The film 13 hours is focussed on the role of a small Global Response Unit employed by the separate CIA counterterrorism centre and the arrival an addition to the team who meets up with a friend with whom they have served together and know each other’s families. This enables the film viewer to be introduced into the situation and the State Department compound who insists on Departmental policy and directives being followed placing tight leash on the team who have separate accommodation within the compound and keep to themselves.  The unit are deployed to collect the Ambassador from the airport and accompany to a special mission compound facility of several acres of gardens and a large villa type building with swimming pool. The Ambassador and a colleague are accompanied by only two security officers plus guards provided by the local militia believed to be sympathetic. The escort is horrified by the situation and express similar concern when required to provide security for members of the state department team having meetings with those from the community building up links.

Because of the scale of attack and despite the resistance of the security staff the compound is over run and with the Ambassador and his assistant in a secure room the terrorists set fire to the building. The special until learning of the situation and the appeal for help want to attempt to assist but are ordered to remain by the station chief concerned about their own protection should they be attacked. They insist on going and help rescue the two-security agent, and recover one body and return to the State Deportment CIA compound which is attacked by mortar bombs and a substantial force of well-armed insurgents with local militia abandoning them. Support is provided from Tripoli but attempts to bring support from further afield is not possible in the time. The mortar attack kills two members of the unit

The situation appears worse when a heavily armed convoy of vehicles approaches but fortunately this is a Libya escort of the Global response unit from Tripoli which secures the position enabling the evacuation of all USA staff from the county. The Ambassador is found but is pronounced dead at hospital. The official USA State Department and CIA staff can leave. The special unit stayed on to recover the bodies for their return to USA and it is said tens of thousands of Libyans marked the death of thee Ambassador irrespective of the risks involved at the time. The films centres on the life of one of the special team who survived showing the pressure from his wife and children to establish a more normal life and uses internet video communications to provide ongoing contact and both parties pretend normality for the sake of the children. At the end of the film he admits he was very lucky to be alive, the odds stated to have been 1000 to 1 and he breaks down on revealing that their married friend with children did not.  In the end credits, all the surviving members of the special unit retire and attempt “ordinary” lives with their families although from my perspective this outcome is unlikely.
The film portrays the station chief as indecisive and self-protecting and that had he taken different decisions the Ambassador may have survived. He is reported to have been strongly defended by the Senate and other investigation committees. The issue, and this goes to nub of any attempt by the establishment to investigate political and managerial decisions which immediately appear to have gone badly wrong, must viewed in terms of the international role and policies of the county in focus and can only be judged against the broad brush of subsequent history. If Hilary Clinton becomes President, then it is likely we will see a continuation of present policy. What happens if Trump wins I fear to think.

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