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Official: 'We Should Have Tried' to Help During Benghazi Attack

Retired military official says U.S. knew at the outset of the attack that it was “hostile action."

A retired military official who served at U.S. Africa Command in Germany during the time of the Benghazi attack says that the United States “should have tried” to send help to Americans under fire there.

“There are accounts of time, space and capability discussions of the question, could we have gotten there in time to make a difference,” Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell (Ret.) told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Well, the discussion is not in the ‘could or could not’ in relation to time, space and capability. The point is we should have tried.”

Lovell also told the panel that U.S. officials knew at the outset of the attack that it was “hostile action” and not a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video. But as the military weighed its reaction, he said, “there was a lot of looking to the State Department for what it was that they wanted.”

Some critics questioned the validity of Lovell's assessment.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, a Republican, said that while Lovell was correct in confirming that the military never blamed the video for the attacks, he would not have been in a position to accurately assess military options available during the attack.

"BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken," he said in a statement, adding that "we have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources DoD had available to respond."

On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed the suggestion that military assets could have reached the scene during the attack, reiterating the testimony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

"The notion that we at the State Department didn't do everything we could do to protect our people that night is just disgusting, quite frankly," she added

The hearing before the GOP-led committee comes after the White House denied that a top aide’s email sent three days after the attack indicates that the Obama administration aimed to steer attention away from the assault by extremists.

That email from deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, titled “Prep call with Susan [Rice],” reads in part that one goal of the then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations should be "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader policy failure.”

That email was about “the overall situation in the region” and not about the Benghazi attack, spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Asked again about the documents Thursday, Carney dismissed Republican "conspiracy theories" and said that the focus of investigations of the 2012 attack should be to ensure that a similar event does not happen again.