President Obama declined to answer directly whether a CIA annex was denied urgent requests for military assistance during the deadly attacks last month on U.S. outposts in Libya.
The president did not give a yes-or-no answer Friday when asked pointedly whether the Americans under attack in Benghazi, Libya, were denied requests for help during the attack.
Fox News has also learned that a request from the CIA annex for backup was later denied.
“The election has nothing to do with the four brave Americans getting killed and us wanting to find out exactly what happened,” the president said in TV interview with an NBC affiliate in Colorado.
When asked again, Obama said, “The minute I found out what was going on, I gave three very clear directives — Number 1, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.”
The first attack occurred at the American consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and U.S. diplomat Sean Smith.
Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team that was at the CIA annex about a mile from the consulate when it came under attack. Upon hearing shots fired, team members asked higher-ups at the annex if they could go the consulate. However, they were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange.
Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and went to the consulate, evacuating survivors and Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack.
They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight. At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. Woods and fellow former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty were killed at the annex by a mortar shell at 4 a.m.
The CIA and Defense Department have denied claims about requests for support being rejected.
“The agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi,” said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood. “Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need. Claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there was not a clear enough picture of what was occurring on the ground in Benghazi to send help.
“There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here,” he said Thursday. “But the basic principle here … is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”
Obama also said in the TV interview, as he said previously said, the administration is going to “investigate what happened to make sure it never happens again” and find out who was involved in the attack so they can be brought to justice.
“I guarantee you that everybody in the State Department, our military, CIA, you name it, have a No.1 priority making sure that people are safe. These are our folks. And we’re going to find out exactly what happened but what we’re also going to do is make sure that we are identify those who carried out these terrible attacks,” the president said.
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