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Book Review – Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi

By Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz; St. Martin's Press; 295 pages

The nocturnal assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, and a second attack hours later on the consulate’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) annex were a terrible blow for the United States, for Libya, and for all who believe in the civilized conduct of international affairs.

Four Americans lost their lives, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The carnage dampened prospects for peaceful, positive change in the Middle East, hopes that had been aroused 20 months earlier during the high moments of the Arab Spring.

Billed as an impartial account, Under Fire focuses on the battles at the consulate and annex, mostly from the viewpoint of five Diplomatic Security (DS) officers who struggled in vain to defend and protect.

As a retired Foreign Service officer who worked at embassies and consulates, I wanted to know what happened at Benghazi without politics, polemics, embellishment or accusation.

That’s what Burton and Katz provide in Under Fire.

Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi

Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, by Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz; St. Martin’s Press; 295 pages

Billed as an impartial account, Under Fire focuses on the battles at the consulate and annex, mostly from the viewpoint of five Diplomatic Security (DS) officers who struggled in vain to defend and protect.

Fred Burton is a former State Department terrorism expert and DS agent. Samuel M. Katz is an author and Middle East expert. They submitted Under Fire for State Department clearance, so the book appears with a dozen black rectangles where words have been blotted out, among them the caliber rating of the M4 carbine (which, a glance at Wikipedia discloses, is .223 caliber or 5.56 mm). The fact that State didn’t inflict more redactions speaks well for the maturity of the reviewers and for the openness of some, at least, in government.

 

DISTURBING DEVELOPMENTS

Most of this book is not, after all, good news. By summer 2012, Libya’s second largest city had become so violent and lawless that many foreign missions, even Iran’s, had been withdrawn. Determined jihadists were reconnoitering the U.S. consulate constantly. Every taxi driver in the city knew about the CIA annex. When the attack came, led by men with long beards and the garb of Taliban warriors in Afghanistan, DS experts knew immediately that this was a planned, coordinated, major terrorist assault.

Just before midnight, while terrorists were breaking into the consulate’s villa hoping to seize Stevens, the city was watching, wide-eyed. The authors write:

“The attack … provided great theater to the who’s who of Western Fwayhat [a district of Benghazi]. Some neighborhood residents emerged from their homes to watch the flames burn in the distance; these concerned neighbors, some wearing robes and flip-flops, shot video of the chaos and called family and friends to let them know of the live-fire Benghazi vaudeville transpiring right before their eyes.”

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...