The U.S. military did not get involved during the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last month because officials did not have enough information about what was going on before the attack was over, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
At a Pentagon new briefing, Panetta said there was no "real-time information" to be able to act on, even though the U.S. military was prepared to do so.
"You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on," Panetta said. "(We) felt we could not put forces at risk in that situation."
A defense official provided more context on Panetta's comments about the decision-making involved in not sending U.S. troops to the consulate being attacked in Benghazi.
He said there was a drone aloft but not directly over the area at the time the attack began.
He said the drone was redirected and arrived in time to record some of the attack. But he described what the drone saw as "looking down, seeing a bunch of buildings and fires, a lot of chaos on the ground."
He said it was not enough to discern exactly what was happening.
"We didn't have good eyes on the situation. There were security forces there on the ground, but they're in the middle of a firefight -- not sending a Sitrep (Situational Report).
The official could not reveal the specific reaction times for the military's Fleet Anti Terrorism Security Teams, which are classified, but said "it would be physically impossible for them to get there in time to intervene in that attack from say, Rota, Spain."
He cited the time it takes just to get their transportation in the air. The official said "these situations normally deteriorate over time ... but usually in a few days, not two hours." He explained that even quick-reaction teams are often positioned for places where intelligence shows a "deteriorating situation" near an embassy.