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Panetta defends military response to Benghazi attack: ‘This is not 911’

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday defended the Obama administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, saying that it was not practical to militarily respond immediately to the assault.

“This is not 911,” Panetta said in an interview on CNN's State of the Union. “You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time.”

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GOP lawmakers have questioned if the Obama administration took too long to identify the Benghazi compound raid as a terrorist attack, and move security resources in place to rescue lives. The attack, which occurred last year on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, claimed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.


Panetta said the military moved troops to the area as quickly as it could.

“We deployed,” he said. “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 Panetta, who is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said intelligence failures “made it very difficult to respond quickly.”

“In these situations, you’ve got to look at what we were facing, what we knew, what intelligence we had in order to respond,” he said. “Admittedly, better intelligence about what was taking place there would’ve given us a head start.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who appeared with Panetta, added that it was impractical for the military to be “every place” in the world.

“I might remind you, it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world,” he said of potential terror threats. “It wasn’t just 9/11 in Libya.”

Dempsey said the attack on the Benghazi was not a “continuous event.”

“You know, it wasn't a seven-hour battle,” he said. “It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours.

“The idea that these were - was one continuous event is just incorrect,” Dempsey said.