The Americans fired back and soon afterward fled the CIA base for the airport. By 10 a.m., they had flown out, heading to Tripoli. Shortly after 7 p.m., the Americans, including the bodies of the four dead, were flown out of Tripoli on a military aircraft.
Not until just before 8 p.m., however, did the first U.S. military unit arrive in the region, as the special operations team landed at Cigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. An hour later, the Marine team landed in Tripoli. The defense official noted that even if the military had been able to get units there a bit faster, there was no way they could have gotten there in time to make any difference in the deaths of the four Americans.
‘‘The U.S. Armed Forces did everything they were in position to do to respond to the attack in Benghazi,’’ Panetta said in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press. ‘‘The department’s senior leaders and I spared no effort to save the lives of our American colleagues, as we worked to bolster security in response to a series of other threats in the region occurring at the same time.’’