A retiring Marine who held a key military post during the deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, will meet with members of Congress on Wednesday in a classified briefing.
Col. George Bristol will appear before the House Armed Services Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, said an official familiar with the committee schedule. Bristol was commander last year of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, an elite unit that conducts special operations across northern Africa. His position would have put him in position to know what options the U.S. had to protect Americans under fire on Sept. 11, when U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by insurgent attacks, prompting national outcry and a congressional investigation into the lack of protection.
It isn’t clear whether the committee will release a declassified account of the briefing. In another classified briefing in June, Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, the former commander of a four-member Army special operations unit in Libya, told the armed services committee that his commanders told him to remain in Tripoli, the country’s capital, on the night of the attack, according to an account released afterward by the committee. Gibson said he was told to prepare to defend Americans in the event of additional attacks and to help survivors being evacuated from Benghazi.
Bristol, a seasoned combat commander, stepped down from his post with the task force in a change of command ceremony in March, and Pentagon officials told members of Congress and the media that he could not be ordered to testify because he was retired. That isn’t the case, however. As Marine Corps Times first reported July 17, Bristol is on active duty through the end of the month, said Maj. Shawn Haney, a Marine spokeswoman.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and other members of Congress raised questions about the Marine Corps Times story the day after it was published, and the Pentagon reversed course.
“The Department of Defense has fully cooperated with congressional requests to understand the attacks on the Benghazi compound,” said Air Force Maj. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman, at the time. “In response to a request from Senator Graham’s office earlier this month, Colonel George Bristol ... will be available to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs.”
A Pentagon official added that there was “initial confusion on Colonel Bristol’s retirement status due to a personnel administrative error,” but said the situation was resolved. Several attempts to reach Bristol have been unsuccessful.
CBS News reported on Tuesday that Bristol has already met with Graham.
Graham told the network that his staff has heard from a number of officials within the special operations and intelligence communities who said they have good leads on where suspects in the attacks are, but have not been cleared to follow through on them. Officials with Graham’s office could not be reached for comment.