Operation Jukebox Lotus
Primary Operating Location: US Special Mission Compound, Benghazi, Libya
Secondary Operating Location/s: US Embassy, Tripoli, Libya; Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy; Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece
– U/I Elements, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta (aka “Delta Force”)
– Company C, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
– U/I Elements, Marine Corps Security Force Regiment
Start Date: 11 September 2012
End Date: October 2012
Summary: Operation Jukebox Lotus was the name for the crisis response to the events at the US Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya on 11-12 September 2012. The operation was led by US Africa Command, but received support from other commands, namely US European Command.
On 11-12 September 2012, the US Special Mission Compound in Benghazi was attacked by militants. The nature of the attackers and the level of planning involved in the attack itself remain unclear. The attack resulted in the death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who had arrived in Benghazi, Libya on 10 September 2012 and was scheduled to remain in Benghazi until 14 September 2012. Ambassador Stevens’ visit was timed in part to fill the staffing gaps between temporary duty principal officers, as well as to open an American Corner at a local school and to reconnect with local contacts.
In the absence of an effective central government security presence, the Special Mission’s Libyan security contingent was composed of four armed members of the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade (February 17) – a local umbrella organization of militias dominant in Benghazi (some of which were Islamist) and loosely affiliated with the Libyan government, but not under its control. They resided in a guest house building on compound. The Special Mission also had an unarmed, contract local guard force (LGF), Blue Mountain Libya (BML), which provided five guards per 8-hour shift, 24/7, to open and close the gates, patrol the compound, and give warning in case of an attack. In addition, the Special Mission had requested that a marked Libyan Supreme Security Council (SSC) police car be posted outside of the compound at all times. In practice a car was there only intermittently and no vehicle was present at the time of the subsequent attack, and a subsequent local press report quoted an SSC official as saying that he ordered the removal of the car “to prevent civilian casualties.”
At around 2200 hours local time on 11 September 2012, shots and an explosion were heard and Special Mission personnel observed via security camera dozens of individuals, many armed, begin to enter the compound through the main entrance at the main compound gate. No warning was received from the February 17 or BML guards, who were observed fleeing from the attackers. Efforts were made to evacuate the main Special Mission complex and relocate to the Special Mission Compound Annex, during which time Ambassador Stevens’ was killed. Ambassador Stevens’ body was later recovered from the Benghazi Medical Center, where he had been taken by reported “good samaritans” during the course of the attack. After also abandoning the Special Mission Compound Annex and with the assistance of the security team from the Embassy in Tripoli, all US personnel were evacuated and moved by convoy to Benghazi airport, where they departed by a combination of chartered jet and Libyan Air Force C-130. The body of Ambassador Stevens was transported from the Benghazi Medical Center to the airport by Libyan personnel and was identified at the airport. At total of four Americans were killed during the course of the attack.
During the course of the response to the crisis, the US military moved an unmanned aerial vehicle into position to observe the events. Later a second unmanned aerial vehicle relieved the first to continue providing persistent surveillance. In addition, at 0200 hours local time on 12 September 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta convened a series of meetings in the Pentagon with senior officials including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Commander of AFICOM General Carter Ham. They discussed additional response options for Benghazi and for the potential outbreak of further violence throughout the region, particularly in Tunis, Tunisia; Tripoli, Libya; Cairo, Egypt; and Sana’a, Yemen. During these meetings, Secretary Panetta directed (that is to say provided verbal authorization) for the following actions: 1) A Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) platoon, stationed in Rota, Spain, was directed to prepare to deploy to Benghazi, and a second FAST platoon, also stationed in Rota, Spain, was directed to prepare to deploy to the Embassy in Tripoli; 2) a EUCOM special operations force, which was training in Central Europe, was directed to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe (this force was later reported to be Company C, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group); and 3) a special operations force based in the United States was directed to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe (this force is later reported to have been a detachment from 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta or “Delta Force”). During this period, actions were verbally conveyed from the Pentagon to the affected Combatant Commands in order to expedite movement of forces upon receipt of formal authorization. At 0239 hours local time, as ordered by Secretary Panetta, the National Military Command Center transmitted formal authorization for the 2 Marine Corps FAST platoons, and associated equipment, to prepare to deploy and for the US European Command special operations force, and associated equipment, to move to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe. At 0253 hours local time, as ordered by Secretary Panetta, the National Military Command Center transmitted formal authorization to deploy a special operations force, and associated equipment, from the United States to an intermediate staging base in southern Europe.
To meet the evacuating personnel in Tripoli, at 0605 hours local time, US Africa Command ordered a C-17 aircraft in Germany to prepare to deploy to libya to evacuate Americans. A US Air Force C-130 aircraft is also dispatched. At 1915 hours local time on 12 September 2012, the US Embassy Tripoli evacuees, Benghazi personnel, and those wounded in the attacks departed Tripoli on the C-17 aircraft, with military doctors and nurses aboard providing en route medical care to the injured. The aircraft arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base at approximately 2230 hours Tripoli time on 12 September 2012, just over 24 hours after the attacks in Benghazi had commenced.
Crisis response activities continued during this period. At 0757 hours local time, the US European Command special operations force, and associated equipment, arrived at an intermediate staging base in southern Europe. At 0856, the FAST platoon, and associated equipment, arrived in Tripoli. At 0928, the special operations force deployed from the United States, and associated equipment, arrived at an intermediate staging base in southern Europe. Naval Forces Europe’s forward-stationed and rotational forces played a critical role in these parts of the response mission. The availability of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, and Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, enabled US forces to be rapidly postured, employed, and sustained as tasking evolved over the course of the crisis response. US Navy and joint force operations could not have occurred without these bases and the direct support they provided. Additionally, the command flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), operating from international waters with the Commander, US Sixth Fleet, embarked, provided command and control, planning, and support coordination during the initial phase of the crisis. Mount Whitney was joined by the landing ship dock USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) and the destroyers USS McFaul (DDG 74), USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) during the initial response. The USS Fort McHenry and USS McFaul continued to participate in the extended Operation Jukebox Lotus mission after the initial attack. Crisis response elements remained in Libya into October 2012, and were deployed to other locations in the region in response to the potential for similar attacks elsewhere.
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