Today, I'm reviewing Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Format read: Hardcover (owned)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
On the night of September 11, 2012, the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, Libya, came under ferocious attack by a heavily armed group of Islamic terrorists. The prolonged firefight, and the attack hours later on a nearby CIA outpost, resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, the Information Officer, Sean Smith, and two former Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
After the fall of Qaddafi, Benghazi was transformed into a hotbed of fundamentalist fervor and a den of spies for the northern half of the African continent. Moreover, it became the center of gravity for terrorist groups strategically situated in the violent whirlwinds of the Arab Spring. On the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against the United States, a group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists had their sights set on the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence presence in the city.
Based on the exclusive cooperation of eyewitnesses and confidential sources within the intelligence, diplomatic, and military communities, Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz reveal for the first time the terrifying twelve-hour ordeal confronted by Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, his Diplomatic Security (DS) contingent, and the CIA security specialists who raced to rescue them.
More than just the minute-by-minute narrative of a desperate last stand in the midst of an anarchic rebellion, Under Fire is an inspiring testament to the bravery and selflessness of the men and women who put their country first while serving in one of the most dangerous regions in the world.
So when I heard that St. Martin's Press - an imprint that I can always rely on for thoughtful, provocative books - was working with Stratfour Vice President Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz to release a book on the attacks, I knew that this was something I'd want to read.
This is a timely, well-researched book that anyone with interest in world affairs should pick up immediately.
Things that worked:
Burton and Katz make the editorial decision early on to focus on the five DS agents that were in compound that evening.
Code-named A, B, C, D and E to protect their identities, Burton and Katz throughly cover how these five men fought with their lives - often with a minor arsenal of resources - to protect the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and associated staffers.
Burton and Katz reconstruct the events of that evening solidly - offering a concrete look into how the events of the fire fights played out.
* The security situation in Benghazi leading up to the attacks
Burton and Katz make it a point to discuss the security situation in Benghazi leading up to the attacks. They make it a point to highlight that in the months leading up to the attacks, the security situation in Benghazi had deteriorated noticeably.
As black Islamist and al-Qaeda-linked flags began to fly freely over the city, the central government was increasingly shown to be unable to demonstrate its writ over its own territory. Especially concerning was a surprise rocket attack earlier that year which struck a British diplomatic vehicle in Benghazi.
Burton breaks down the attack and illustrates on how key features raised alarms of its professional nature, including timing, coordination, and the likely pre-surveillance of the route. The sizable attack on America’s compound in Benghazi may have appeared out of nowhere, but the rising threat to Westerners in the city was clearly apparent.
* The courageous efforts of the CIA at the Annex
While their losses have been highlighted in the mainstream media coverage of Benghazi, Burton and Katz do not shy away from highlighting, emphasizing and providing more detail into the courageous efforts by members of the CIA annex located nearby to stage a rescue mission.
They plunged headfirst into a highly chaotic situation, rescued five of the seven Americans alive (along with the body of FSO Smith), and escaped through streets full of gun-toting fighters who emptied their magazines into the fleeing vehicles. That no one was killed during the rescue is nothing short of a miracle.
Things that didn't work:
The authors spent a great deal of the book examining the nature of the attacks. It's their analysis that the attacks were a quasi-professional attempt by Islamist militants to overrun the Special Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, and not a spontaneous event caused by an anti-Muslim video on the Internet - as was the case of the violent protests that occurred earlier that evening in Cairo.
However, I felt like they could have gone further to explain why the attacks seemed so disorganized. They were conducted by dozens to hundreds or armed young men who were not very coordinated in their actions, who emptied their clips into the night sky at the outset of the attack, thereby announcing their presence, and who ultimately succeeded in burning a simple building down with kerosene.
It remains to be seen whether this was a well-planned attack by al-Qaeda that brought out dozens of armed, angry young men; or a spontaneous attack by dozens of armed, angry young men that contained professional members of al-Qaeda and aligned militias within their ranks.
* Cairo’s Embassy attacks
Almost no information is provided on the attacks on America’s Embassy in Cairo earlier that night. The close timing of the two attacks raises questions to this author about whether the White House’s initial claims of the attacks being caused by an anti-Muhammad Internet video were justifiable and understandable. The Cairo attack, coming out of a clear protest against the video, appeared to be a trigger that led to the later attack on Benghazi. Possibly as a result of confusion, the White House’s initial characterization of the Benghazi attacks has been labeled by some as conspiratorial.
It would help the ongoing efforts to de-politicize the Benghazi attacks and locate the truth, to fully investigate what happened that night in Cairo as well.
Heroism is a rare quality. The men who fought to defend the Benghazi diplomatic mission and CIA annex that September evening showed courage above and beyond the call of duty. Their story is one that needed to be told. Burton and Katz cut through the ongoing political grandstanding and demonstrated that some things remain timeless: truth, honor, and valor.