* U.S. rescue mission to Benghazi hit by 'professional'
* Two diplomats killed at consulate, two at 'safe' house
* Rescue raid for diplomats dogged by miscommunication
By Hadeel Al Shalchi
BENGHAZI, Libya, Sept 12 A squad of U.S. troops
despatched by helicopter across the Libyan desert to rescue
besieged diplomats from Benghazi on Wednesday ran into a fierce
overnight ambush that left a further two Americans dead, Libyan
officials told Reuters.
Accounts of the mayhem at the U.S. consulate, where the
ambassador and a fourth American died after a chaotic protest
over a film insulting to Islam, remain patchy. But two Libyan
officials, including the commander of a security force which
escorted the U.S. rescuers, said a later assault on a supposedly
safe refuge for the diplomats appeared professionally executed.
Miscommunication which understated the number of American
survivors awaiting rescue - there were 37, nearly four times as
many as the Libyan commander expected - also meant survivors and
rescuers found themselves short of transport to escape this
second battle, delaying an eventual dawn break for the airport.
Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, whose special operations unit was
ordered by Libya's authorities to meet an eight-man force at
Benghazi airport, said that after his men and the U.S. squad had
found the American survivors who had evacuated the blazing
consulate, the ostensibly secret location in an isolated villa
came under an intense and highly accurate mortar barrage.
"I really believe that this attack was planned," he said,
adding to suggestions by other Libyan officials that at least
some of the hostility towards the Americans was the work of
experienced combatants. "The accuracy with which the mortars hit
us was too good for any regular revolutionaries."
Obeidi's Libya's Shield Brigade was formed by civilians
during last year's U.S.-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi
and is now part of the ad hoc government militia forces which
the fledgling democratic administration uses to keep order.
Other Libyan officials cited the possible involvement of
former soldiers still loyal to Gaddafi's family or Islamist
fighters, some of whom have trained and fought in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have noted it was "complex attack". Several
Libyan officials and witnesses said an initial demonstration at
the consulate appeared to be largely unarmed, though some
elements of an Islamist militia were spotted.
At some point, the crowd became incensed, believing they
were under attack from within the consulate, many fetched
weapons and the consular villa ended up in flames, with most of
the Americans fleeing to the safe house after two, including
ambassador Christopher Stevens, had been fatally injured.
"RAINING DOWN FIRE"
Of the eight American troops who had come from Tripoli, one
was killed and two were wounded, Obeidi said. A Libyan deputy
interior minister said a second American was also killed in the
attack on the safe house. It was not clear if this was a
diplomat or one of the consulate's original security detail.
"It began to rain down on us," Obeidi told Reuters,
describing the moment the attack began - just as the Libyan
security force was starting up the 10 pickup trucks and sedans
they had brought to ferry the Americans to the airport.
"About six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa,"
he said. "During this firing, one of the marines whom I had
brought with me was wounded and fell to the ground.
"As I was dragging the wounded marine to safety, some
marines who were located on the roof of the villa as snipers
shouted and the rest of the marines all hit the ground.
"A mortar hit the side of the house. One of the marines from
the roof went flying and fell on top of us."
A senior U.S. diplomat - not ambassador Stevens, who Libyan
officials said died at a local hospital of the effects of smoke
- urged Obeidi to push ahead with the evacuation, the Libyan
commander Obeidi said. But he had a transport problem.
Having been told to expect 10 Americans and having found 37,
Obeidi did not have enough vehicles to break out, despite having
one heavy anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pickup truck.
"I was being bombarded by calls from all over the country by
Libyan government officials who wanted me to hurry and get them
out," he said. "But I told them that we were in such difficult
circumstances and that I needed more men and more cars."
Eventually dozens more vehicles were despatched from
pro-government militia brigades and, with the sun rising, the
convoy headed back to the airport where an aircraft flew a first
group of U.S. personnel out to the Libyan capital.
Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said Stevens
and another diplomat died in the first series of incidents
around the consulate, while the other two Americans died during
the attempt to evacuate from the safe house to the airport.
"(The ambassador) died as a result of suffocation by the
fumes of the fire inside the embassy and one was also killed by
gunfire before around 37 people were moved to a place we thought
was safe," Sharif told Reuters in Benghazi.
Speaking of the rescue mission, he said: "A team of
commandos arrived by air and went to a farm which we thought was
a secret location. Once they got there, they came under heavy
fire from heavy machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades and
automatic rifles, which resulted in the death of two others."
He estimated that a dozen or more Americans were hurt.