WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya requested — and received — a four-month extension of a 16- member security team, a February request that showed just how dangerous the situation in the country had become for American diplomats.
The commander of the security team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, told ABC News that slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had wanted the team to stay even longer — past the end of its extended deployment in August. But the State Department said a request for a second extension was never made.
Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is preparing for a hearing Wednesday on whether the State Department refused repeated requests for more security in Benghazi. The memo was obtained from a government official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to release the document.
The State Department will send two officials to testify at the hearing, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named an agency review board to determine whether security was lax. The FBI also is investigating the attacks, which Obama administration officials initially described as a spontaneous protest but now acknowledge was an act of terrorism.
A senior State Department official said that after the team remained through August, it was replaced by an equal number of personnel with the same skill sets.
Had the security support team still been in Tripoli at the time of the attack in Benghazi, it wouldn't have made any difference, said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to be quoted on the subject.
"They had nothing to do with Benghazi, zero," the official said. "They were based in Tripoli and they were not a quick reaction force jetting around the country."
While the February memo referred to conditions in Tripoli, the description also generally described the security situation in Libya.
"Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent clashes in Tripoli and other major population centers," the memo said.
The memo added, "Until these militias are off the streets and a strong national police force is established, we will not have a reliable host government partner that is capable of responding to the embassy's security needs.
"It is likely that we will need to maintain a heightened security posture for the foreseeable future."
The February memo said the 16-member team was an integral part of the mobile and fixed site security protections. The team's duties beyond securing diplomatic facilities included training local guards, being a quick response force, and providing medical support, communications, and disposal of explosives.
The force also supplied security for visits from government officials, including deployment of 13 of the 16 members for a congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.