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Panetta criticizes ‘Monday-morning quarterbacking’ on Libya attack

The Pentagon’s top officials on Thursday defended the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, dismissing some of the steady Republican criticism of U.S. intelligence failures and the Obama administration’s reaction to the attack.

“There's a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on here,” Panetta said at a Pentagon press briefing Thursday, in response to a question about why there wasn’t a clearer intelligence picture in Libya.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey said that he was “confident” U.S. forces were alert and responsive in what was a very fluid situation.

“Clearly the American people deserve to understand what happened in Benghazi,” Dempsey said. “As you know, there are reviews underway both here and in the Department of State, so we'll better understand what happened.

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“It's not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers,” he added.

The Obama administration has been criticized for its shifting story about whether the attack was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video or a planned assault by terrorist forces.

The administration has also faced criticism for not recognizing the possibility of an attack on the 9/11 anniversary, as well as for not having Marines deployed with U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens before the Benghazi attack, where Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Asked Thursday if U.S. forces were on heightened alert due to the 9/11 anniversary, Panetta said they were.

“Yeah, and let me point out, it was 9/11 everywhere in the world,” Dempsey interjected.

Panetta defended the Pentagon response to the attack when asked about a drone overhead Benghazi and if any military moves could have been made more quickly.

“We quickly responded, as General Dempsey said, in terms of deploying forces to the region,” Panetta said. “We had FAST platoons in the region. We had ships that we had deployed off of Libya. And we were prepared to respond to any contingency. And certainly had forces in place to do that.”

Panetta added there wasn't enough time to respond in Benghazi before the attack was over.

"This happened within a few hours and it was really over before we had the opportunity to really know what was happening," he said.

Panetta said he wasn’t going to put forces on the ground without a clear picture of the situation there.

“The basic principle here, basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place,” Panetta said. “And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General [Carter] Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”