United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday defended the administration's response to last year's terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that claimed the life of the US ambassador to Libya.
"This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time. That's the nature of it. Our people are there. They are in position to move, but we have got to have good intelligence that gives us a heads up that something is going to happen," the defence secretary told CNN in an interview.
Panetta said the intelligence did not provide any warning that this was going to happen.
The attack left four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.
"We deployed. We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go. But very frankly, by the time we got the information as to what, in fact, was taking place there, just distance alone made it very difficult to respond quickly. That's just the nature of dealing with the Middle East," he said in response to a question.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the same interview, refuted reports that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was a seven-hour battle.
"It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect," he said.
"The nearest armed aircraft happened to be in Djibouti. The distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington, DC to Los Angeles. There is some significant physics involved. And in the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time," Dempsey argued.
Panetta said the US has learnt lessons from the Benghazi attack.
"The answer is, you have to develop host country capability there. Every embassy we have, the host country has to provide good security," he said.
"You have to be able to rely in part on their capability to provide security. You have also got to be able to harden the facility so that, you know, it is well-protected. Thirdly, if none of that works, then obviously you have got to have a response team that is ready to respond. You have got to have intelligence that tells you this is trouble. There is a risk here," he said.
Dempsey said as soon as they knew something happened, Panetta gave vocal instructions to begin moving forces to a higher alert posture and to meet them with aircraft necessary to move them, and then, including the transit time to give him an estimate of how quickly they could have something there.
"But you can't be at every place. And I might remind you it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world, not just in Libya," Dempsey said.