Washington • A U.S. Special Forces soldier from Utah told a congressional committee Wednesday that security at American buildings in Libya remained weak even after attacks on a British diplomat and the U.S. embassy there.
Utah Army National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who served in Libya for most of this year, also said he was coming forward to testify about the security concerns despite concerns about repercussions for doing so.
"The killing of a U.S. ambassador is a rare and extraordinary thing and requires our attention as a people," Wood told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"As a citizen," Wood said, "I made the determination that this outweighs all other interests and will risk whatever circumstances may result from my testimony."
The Army Green Beret said security at the Benghazi consulate where the Americans were bombed was a struggle during his time in the country and remained so after he left in August.
"The situation remained uncertain, and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse," Wood said. "Diplomatic security remained weak" and the manager of security in the region never received the additional security forces he asked for.
Wood testified at the behest of Republicans on the committee who are charging that President Barack Obama's administration didn't do enough to shore up security shortcomings at U.S. missions in the region during a time of violence and that led to the death of Stevens and others.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the Oversight subcommittee on foreign operations and who visited Libya during the weekend, charged that increased security at U.S. facilities in the region would have prevented the American deaths.
"I believe personally with more assets … we could have and should have saved Ambassador Stevens' life," Chaffetz said.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, said Republicans needed to hold their accusations until all facts are known.
"We need to carefully, very carefully investigate allegations that have been made in the last week, and we need to run them to the ground before we draw conclusions," Cummings said. "We shouldn't draw conclusions and then look for the facts."
Eric Allan Nordstrom, who was the regional security officer in Libya's capital city through July, had told outlets that U.S. security was low in the country but noted in the hearing Wednesday that more forces may not have changed anything.
"The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service," Nordstrom said. "Having an extra foot of wall or an extra half-dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault."
Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, responding to the committee for the State Department, disputed the Republican point that the Obama administration had voiced facts about the attack that differed from State Department officials. As more information was known, Kennedy said, they were revealed and the story made more accurate.
"Diplomacy, by its very nature, often must be practiced in dangerous places," Kennedy testified, noting that there are 275 diplomatic posts in 170 countries, more of a reach than any other U.S. agency. "We do this because we have learned again and again that when America is absent especially from the dangerous places there are consequences: extremism takes root, our interests suffer and our national security is threatened."
Kennedy added that no one wants to investigate the deaths more than the administration and the department.
"And nobody will us hold us more accountable than we hold ourselves," he said.