Benghazi: Real Account of What Happened

Previously at the beginning of the Libyan revolution in 2011, Benghazans thanked Americans for the United States’ help in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi.  After Gaddafi was dragged out of a ditch and killed by rebel fighters in October 2011, heavily-armed militias that toppled that regime sought to expand their roles in a post-revolutionary Libya.  Gaddafi’s soldiers were driven from the city.  

The rebel fighters raided the armories where Gaddafi stockpiled thousands of AK-47s and other weapons and armed themselves.  With the absence of a strong military and police force, these local militias shifted from revolutionary fighters to national guardsmen.  Some militias remained grateful to America, but questions lingered as to how much the US diplomatic corps could trust these militias, some of whom were suspected of fierce anti-American sentiments.  

The city harbored at least two hard-line Islamist militias, aligned ideologically with al-Qaeda, that openly despised America and the West. The abundance of weapons, the absence of a working Libyan government and lingering anti-Western sentiments among certain militias led to increasingly brazen incidents during the spring and summer 2012.  Attacks escalated on June 6, 2012 when an IED blew a hole in the wall around the US diplomatic compound.  No one was injured, but a pro-al-Qaeda group took credit, calling it retaliation for the death of one of their commanders killed in a recent drone strike in Pakistan.  Another attack took place on June 11 that same year when the British Ambassdor to Libya was driving through Benghazi.  

Attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at his car.  No one was killed, but two members of his security team were injured.  A US government review of events during the spring/summer 2012 found a general “backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya.”  On June 25, US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens sent a cable to Washington saying Islamic extremism appeared to be rising in eastern Libya and that al-Qaeda’s black and white flag had been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities.  

In July, Ambassador Stevens asked the State Department to extend the presence of a Site Security Team that consisted of 16 active-duty military special operators.  That request was denied.  State Department officials decided that locally-hired guards and diplomatic security (DS) agents could do the job.  On August 2, Ambassador Stevens sent another cable to Washington seeking more bodyguards.  He said, “the security condition in Libya is unpredictable, volatile and violent.” Despite his concern about security, Stevens remained outwardly upbeat.

Kris, known as “Tanto,” was one of the six Americans who made up the Annex Security Team.  This group of elite warriors had experience in the military and had joined a clandestine organization that protected American covert intelligence operatives overseas.  They had come to Benghazi as security officers for American diplomats and CIA agents. The Annex was a 2-acre compound with perimeter walls and multiple houses.  It was an ideal base of operations for the US covert intelligence service, especially because of its proximity to the State Department’s Special Mission Compound located a half-mile to the northwest.  The Annex housed 20 Americans including the Benghazi CIA base chief and other officers.  

Ambassador Stevens, who normally was based at the embassy in Tripoli, planned a 5-day visit to Benghazi starting September 10.  As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the Ambassador’s coinciding planned visit approached, several operators recalled an intelligence cable that warned: Be advised, we have reports from locals that a Western facility or US Embassy/Consulate/Government target will be attacked in the next week.  As a precaution, the operators moved their tactical gear into their bedrooms in case of battle.  

On September 11, 2012, at approximately 9:30 pm, the American diplomatic outpost came under sudden siege by a murderous mob.  The attackers rushed in, plundered buildings, and set fires with deadly intent.  No friendly troops were close enough to attempt a rescue.  State Department security officers took cover and Ambassador Stevens went missing.  A call went out from one of the overwhelmed Americans to the security officers at the nearby annex.  

“If you don’t get here soon, we’re all going to die!”  The security team, including Kris, were about to rely on their past military training (two were Navy SEALs, one was an Army Ranger and three were Marines).  They could see from their annex that the State Department was under attack.  They put on their gear but had to wait for the go-ahead from the base chief.  From their idling vehicles, the operators heard chanting in the distance and orange flames rising from the Compound.  Tanto grabbed his radio and asked for a drone and air support.  A drone, unbeknownst to Tanto, had been ordered from the US military’s Africa Command to reposition itself over the Compound.  

Once there, it monitored events and beamed live images to Washington.  The request for air support was not easy to fulfill, and later a Pentagon spokesman stated that none of America’s AC-130 gunships were anywhere within range of Benghazi that night. Twenty grueling minutes later, the operators decided to go without approval.  Once inside the Compound, the operators, each carrying 40 pounds of weapons, ammo, body armor and equipment, began searching for survivors; they were unable to resuscitate Sean Smith, the State Department’s communications expert, who was found unconscious, and Ambassador Stevens was still missing.  No enemy attackers seemed to be on or near the Compound.  It was 11 pm.  

One of the DS agents received a phone call warning that large groups of bad guys were regrouping for a second assault.  The operators escaped from the Compound to the Annex in their vehicles and some of them made their way to a roof top on one of the buildings.  At that time, now after midnight, a reinforcement security team from Tripoli flew to Benghazi on a private charter.  (That seven-member force included former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty.) The attackers threw a small jelly bomb over the wall and commenced firing. After the firefight, Tanto thought about his wife and kids. 

“None of us wants to die.  But it’s a possibility and if you don’t accept that, it’s just going to be in the back of your head the whole time, and you’re not going to be able to function.  So you accept it, you realize that you’re not going to be able to talk to your family possibly ever again.”  He thought back to the amount of time they lost while waiting for the OK to respond to the Compound.  He believed Sean Smith wouldn’t have died and Ambassador Stevens wouldn’t be missing had they rushed to the Compound when they were first alerted.  (At 2 am, Ambassador Stevens was declared dead.)
Around 3 am, the second firefight ensued.  The attackers shot more than they did during the first assault but after about 10 minutes, the attackers retreated without making it to the Americans inside the building. The team of Tripoli operators finally reached the annex.  Plans were made for evacuations.  Then Tanto heard the strange whooshing sound of incoming fire.  The attackers increased their firepower; this time they used mortars. 

Glen and fellow operator Tyrone Woods, also a former Navy SEAL, didn’t survive after a mortar exploded on the rooftop. When the mortars stopped, the Americans prepared to leave the Annex.  They loaded the bodies of Glen and Tyrone onto the truck.  At sunrise on September 12, a convoy of armed vehicles left the Annex and escorted the Americans to the airport. The battle had lasted 13 hours.  “It’s my hope that Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods will be remembered not as victims or political pawns, but as brave Americans who put themselves in harm’s way, who believed in their work and their country and who died serving others,” says Tanto.

Tanto is involved in www.leadingfromthefront.org, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to advance a message, build support for certain policy procedures and clearly define the choice America has in the election this year.  

Mentioned in the Video

Guest Info


Was one of six operators who fought the Battle of Benghazi; Contributed to the accounts in Mitchel Zuckoff’s book, 13 Hours, now a major motion picture (Paramount) and available on DVD

Former Blackwater Security Contractor; Worked as part of CIA’s Global Response Staff

(GRS); Former Army Ranger, 75th Ranger Regiment, 1995-2006

Master’s Degree: Criminal Justice

Small Business Owner/Insurance Adjuster

Married, 3 children


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