By Jeremy Herb
A special operations commander who played a role the night of last year’s attack in Benghazi told a congressional panel Wednesday that no “stand down” order was given to forces on the ground in Libya.
Col. George Bristol, who commanded an Africa-based task force at the time of the terrorist attack, told the House Armed Services Committee that he gave Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, who led the site security team in Tripoli, initial freedom of action to respond to the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi.
Bristol corroborated testimony Gibson provided the committee last month that no “stand down” order was given — contradicting accusations made by critics of the Obama administration’s response to the attack — according to a description of Wednesday’s classified, members-only briefing of the Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.
Gibson had testified last month that he was told not to send his team to Benghazi because they needed to remain in Tripoli to defend the U.S. Embassy there in case of additional attacks.
The Pentagon had initially said that Bristol could not be made available to appear before Congress because he had retired at the beginning of July.
In fact, Bristol’s retirement does not begin until Thursday, and he testified before the Armed Services panel on his final day in the military.
Pentagon officials said the mistaken retirement date was due to an administrative error.
The Armed Services panel said that Bristol was traveling in Africa that night and played only a small role in the response to the Benghazi attack.
“Unreliable communications prohibited him from participating in the attack response beyond an initial conversation with LTC Gibson and Rear Adm. [Brian] Losey,” said the committee's written description of the briefing.
Committee sources said the briefing with Bristol was held to get a better sense of the U.S. posture in the region ahead of the attacks, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11.