Leitura para o fim-de-semana: inferno em Benghazi

A 11 de Setembro de 2012, um ataque terrorista ao consulado dos Estados Unidos em Benghazi, na Líbia, provocou a morte ao embaixador norte-americano Christopher Stevens. Quase três anos depois, a 3 de Setembro, será publicado nos EUA o primeiro livro com um relato minuto a minuto do atentado. A obra chama-se UNDER FIRE: The Untold Story of the Attack on Benghazi, e foi escrita pelos especialistas em segurança Fred Burton (que é também vice-presidente da Strattfor) e Samuel M. Katz. No último número, a Vanity Fair publica uma adaptação do livro.  Aqui podem ainda ler uma entrevista com Fred Burton.

Foto: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Ruters/Landov

Foto: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Ruters/Landov

“40 Minutes In Benghazi

When U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed in a flash of hatred in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, the political finger-pointing began. But few knew exactly what had happened that night. With the ticktock narrative of the desperate fight to save Stevens, Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz provide answers.

“The Libyan security guard at the compound’s main gate, Charlie-1, sat inside his booth happily earning his 40 Libyan dinars ($32 U.S.) for the shift. It wasn’t great money, clearly not as much as could be made in the gun markets catering to the Egyptians and Malians hoping to start a revolution with coins in their pockets, but it was a salary and it was a good job in a city where unemployment was plague-like. The guards working for the Special Mission Compound tried to stay alert throughout the night, but it was easier said than done. To stay awake, some chain-smoked the cheap cigarettes from China that made their way to North Africa via Ghana, Benin, and Togo. The nicotine helped, but it was still easy to doze off inside their booths and posts. Sleeping on duty was risky. The DS agents routinely made spot checks on the guard force in the middle of the night. These unarmed Libyan guards were the compound’s first line of defense—the trip wire.

All appeared quiet and safe. The feeling of security was enhanced at 2102 hours when an SSC (Supreme Security Council—a coalition of individual and divergently minded Libyan militias) patrol vehicle arrived. The tan Toyota Hilux pickup, with an extended cargo hold, decorated in the colors and emblem of the SSC, pulled off to the side of the road in front of Charlie-1. The driver shut off the engine. He wasn’t alone—the darkened silhouette of another man was seen to his right. The pickup sported twin Soviet-produced 23-mm. anti-aircraft guns—the twin-barreled cannons were lethal against Mach 2.0 fighter aircraft and devastating beyond belief against buildings, vehicles, and humans. The two men inside didn’t come out to engage in the usual small talk or to bum some cigarettes from the guards or even to rob them. The Libyan guards, after all, were not armed.

Suddenly the SSC militiaman behind the steering wheel fired up his engine and headed west, the vehicle crunching the gravel with the weight of its tires.

Later, following the attack, according to the (unclassified) Accountability Review Board report, an SSC official said that “he ordered the removal of the car ‘to prevent civilian casualties.’ ” This hints that the SSC knew an attack was imminent; that it did not warn the security assets in the Special Mission Compound implies that it and elements of the new Libyan government were complicit in the events that transpired.

It was 2142 hours.

The attack was announced with a rifle-butt knock on the guard-booth glass.

Iftah el bawwaba, ya sharmout,” the gunman ordered, with his AK-47 pointed straight at the forehead of the Libyan guard at Charlie-1. “Open the gate, you fucker!” The guard, working a thankless job that was clearly not worth losing his life over, acquiesced. Once the gate was unhinged from its locking mechanism, armed men appeared out of nowhere. The silence of the night was shattered by the thumping cadence of shoes and leather sandals and the clanking sound of slung AK-47s and RPG-7s banging against the men’s backs.

Once inside, they raced across the compound to open Bravo-1, the northeastern gate, to enable others to stream in. When Bravo-1 was open, four vehicles screeched in front of the Special Mission Compound and unloaded over a dozen fighters. Some of the vehicles were Mitsubishi Pajeros—fast, rugged, and ever so reliable, even when shot at. They were a warlord’s dream mode of transportation, the favorite of Benghazi’s criminal underworld and militia commanders. The Pajeros that pulled up to the target were completely anonymous—there were no license plates or any other identifying emblems adorning them, and they were nearly invisible in the darkness, especially when the attackers disabled the light in front of Bravo-1.

Other vehicles were Toyota and Nissan pickups, each armed with single- and even quad-barreled 12.7-mm. and 14.5-mm. heavy machine guns. They took up strategic firing positions on the east and west portions of the road to fend off any unwelcome interference.

Each vehicle reportedly flew the black flag of the jihad.

Some of the attackers removed mobile phones from their pockets and ammunition pouches and began to videotape and photograph the choreography of the assault. One of the leaders, motioning his men forward with his AK-47, stopped to chide his fighters. “We have no time for that now,” he ordered, careful not to speak in anything louder than a coarse whisper. “There’ll be time for that later.” (Editor’s note: Dialogue and radio transmissions were re-created by the authors based on their understanding of events.)

Information Management Officer (IMO) Sean Smith was in his room at the residence, interfacing with members of his gaming community, when Charlie-1 was breached. The married father of two children, Smith was the man who had been selected to assist Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi with communications. An always smiling 34-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran and computer buff, he was ideally suited for the sensitive task of communicator. Earlier in the day, Smith had ended a message to the director of his online-gaming guild with the words “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” He was online when the enemy was at the gate, chatting with his guild-mates. Then suddenly he typed “Fuck” and “Gunfire.” The connection ended abruptly.

One of the gunmen had removed his AK-47 assault rifle from his shoulder and raised the weapon into the air to fire a round. Another had tossed a grenade. The Special Mission Compound was officially under attack.

R. sounded the duck-and-cover alarm the moment he realized, by looking at the camera monitors, that the post had been compromised by hostile forces. Just to reinforce the severity of the situation, he yelled “Attack, attack, attack!” into the P.A. system. From his command post, R. had an almost complete view of the compound thanks to a bank of surveillance cameras discreetly placed throughout, and the panorama these painted for him is what in the business they call an “oh shit” moment. He could see men swarming inside the main gate, and he noticed the Libyan guards and some of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade (a local Benghazi militia hired to protect the mission) running away as fast as they could. R. immediately alerted the embassy in Tripoli and the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) housed in the Annex, a covert C.I.A. outpost about a mile from the mission. The QRF was supposed to respond to any worst-case scenarios in Benghazi with at least three armed members. R.’s message was short and to the point: “Benghazi under fire, terrorist attack.”

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