Paramilitary: Semper Fidelis In Libya

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September 18, 2012: There are a lot of angry people inside the U.S. State Department over the circumstances under which two diplomats and two State Department security personnel (former SEALS) were killed during a September 11th attack on a State Department compound in Benghazi, Libya. The main complaint in the State Department is why senior State Department officials allowed such meager security in an area known to be swarming with Islamic terrorist groups that the Libyan government was unable to control. While some media outlets have made much of the fact that there were no U.S. Marine Corps security guards in Libya, there were few State Department security personnel accompanying the American ambassador while he was in Benghazi. The State Department had plenty of security personnel available but had apparently created ROE (Rules of Engagement) for Libya that relied on Libyans to provide security and to keep American security personnel to a minimum. Many State Department personnel who had served in the Middle East believed this was a major error but they were ignored.

For nearly a century the State Department has had a security force, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS), in addition to U.S. Marine Corps guards. The State Department even has about a hundred of their 1,500 BDS personnel trained to carry out commando type missions (the Mobile Security Deployment, or MSD). Members of MSD are trained to deal with kidnapping or terrorist threats at embassies. Most members are former military and receive an additional six months training at a special State Department facility in Virginia. The skills they acquire are special operations type things, including how to drive a car in a combat situation. The MSD agents are mainly used to analyze dangerous situations, come up with a security plan, and carry out direct action (commando type stuff) if needed. Mainly, the MSD is a defensive organization, trained and equipped to protect diplomatic personnel under the most trying circumstances. That involves knowing how to evacuate an embassy under attack, usually with the help of U.S. Marines or SOCOM operatives.

The BDS also perform intelligence and investigative missions at American embassies. But mainly, they are security experts, doing what needs to be done, to keep the embassies safe, even if that means running a small army of foreign and American contractors. This worked well in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many State Department diplomats and support personnel who have served in the Middle East know why.

In Libya, the State Department decided it was preferable to scale back the American security and rely on the locals. This is not a new problem. The most spectacular State Department military blunder occurred in 1983 when State Department pressure led to the reduction in security around a building U.S. Marines were using in Beirut, Lebanon. This allowed a suicide truck bomb to get close to a building used by the marines as a barracks and the explosion left 241 Americans dead. The marines vowed never to let that happen again but the State Department did not change its ideas about security.  

 

 


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