By Carlo Muñoz - 06/12/13 05:51 PM EDT
The U.S. special operations team in Libya were never ordered to stand down during last September's deadly terrorist attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi.
"They weren't [told] to stand down," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified during Wednesday's House Budget Committee hearing.
During the hearing, Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems gain upper hand on budget MORE (R-N.H.) pressed Dempsey on his comments, asking whether requests to go to Benghazi by the U.S. special operations forces unit were denied by higher command.
Dempsey replied the team's request was denied. However, the decision was not a stand-down order, he said.
"A stand down means don't do anything. They were told ... that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi, but was at Tripoli airport," the four-star general told the committee.
The team "would contribute more by going to the Tripoli airport to meet the casualties upon return," rather than being sent into Benghazi, Dempsey added.
As news of the attack was reaching Tripoli, a team of American special operators was preparing to deploy to the attack site, Gregory Hicks, the former top U.S. diplomat in Benghazi, told Congress in May.
Just as U.S. troops were about to depart for Benghazi, officials from Special Operations Command-Africa ordered the units to stand down, according to Hicks.
"They were furious," Hicks said during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on May 5.
The Department of Defense has repeatedly defended the military commander's decision to prevent U.S. special operations forces from going into Benghazi.
That said, members of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee are pushing to get the U.S. special operations team in Tripoli that night to testify before the panel.
"We are working with the Defense Department to see if that can happen," a staffer with the House Armed Services subcommittee told The Hill in May.
The staffer declined to comment as to how soon that U.S. special operations team could come before the subcommittee, or if its members would testify publicly or brief members behind closed doors.
Congressional Republicans have prodded the Obama administration for more details since White House officials admitted the Benghazi strike was a planned, coordinated assault by Islamic militants in the country.
President Obama has come under heavy fire amid news of the stand-down order and recent reports that the White House intentionally removed any reference to terrorism or the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia from the official talking points.
The talking points, vetted by the White House and intelligence community, initially claimed the Benghazi raid was the result of an anti-American protest gone violently wrong.