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September 21, 2017

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GOP lawmakers grill officials on pre-attack security in Benghazi

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi was a sitting target with weak security as requests for extra staffing were denied despite a rising al-Qaida threat, U.S. lawmakers were told Wednesday.

In a testy and heated hearing, Republican lawmakers grilled three top State Department officials and the former leader of a security team into what went wrong in a Sept. 11 attack on the mission, in which four Americans died.

Two officials testified that requests for extra support for U.S. posts in Tripoli and Benghazi had been refused, and the regional security officer said he was frustrated by a "total absence of planning" for future security.

"It was abundantly clear: We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident," regional security officer Eric Nordstrom told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, which lasted over four hours.

Nordstrom said he sought to bolster security by asking for 12 more agents, but was told by a State Department regional director that he was asking for the "Sun, Moon and the stars."

In response, Nordstrom said the most frustrating part of his assignment was not the unrest gripping Libya.

"It's not the hardships, it's not the gunfire, it's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me," he said.

"And I added it (sic) by saying, for me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, who was in charge of a 16-strong site security team based in Tripoli from mid-February until it was withdrawn in mid-August, agreed that "we were fighting a losing battle. We were not even allowed to keep what we had."

The fierce and sustained attack by dozens of militants bearing heavy weapons who torched and bombarded the mission and a nearby annex has thrust President Barack Obama's foreign policy to the forefront of the bitter White House race.

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