Scotty tried to seal the bathroom door using wet towels, but the smoke kept seeping inside. He next tried opening the bathroom window, in an effort to ventilate the place, for all three of them were having problems breathing and visibility was down to near zero. But opening the window only served to create a through-flow of air in the wrong direction, drawing more smoke into the small, cramped room, which in turn made it even more difficult to breathe. The toxic fumes were building to intolerable and potentially deadly levels.
Scotty realized they couldn’t last in there, and he yelled for the others to follow him as he made his way onto the roof of the villa. This involved moving into an adjacent bedroom, from where a window opened onto a patio and from there onto the roof. Crawling on his hands and knees and unable to see properly, he yelled for the others to follow. He showed them the way, banging on the floor to guide the ambassador and Sean to the exit. Scotty managed to make the window, open the security grille, and clamber outside, collapsing onto the small patio area.
As soon as he was visible to the Shariah fighters Scotty came under fire. Realizing that neither the ambassador nor Sean was with him, Scotty went back into the smoke-filled villa to search for them. He did this several times, each time trying to take in fresh air from outside to enable him to continue the search, and still taking fire from the enemy. But on each attempt the thick smoke and the boiling heat forced him to retreat outside in an effort to recover. He kept doing this until he was close to being rendered unconscious, at which stage he staggered up onto the villa roof and radioed for help.
In the TOC, Dave and Alex heard his radio call, but Scotty was so badly affected by the smoke that he was almost unintelligible. They finally realized what he was trying to tell them: that he didn’t have the ambassador or Sean with him, and that they were trapped in the Villa’s smoke-filled interior. Outside the TOC the Shariah fighters had tried to burn the SUVs parked there, but their jerry cans of diesel were empty. They also tried to break into Villa B, where the ambassador’s two CP guys and the Libyan guard were holed up, but failed to do so.
Dave and Alex had watched all of this on CCTV. Leaving Alex in the TOC to man communications, Dave managed to fight his way across to the nearby Villa B—using a smoke grenade to cover his movements—and he reunited himself with the two CP guys. Together the three of them made their second foray into the grounds of the embassy, trying to get from the TOC to the VIP Villa. Driven back by ferocious enemy fire, they grabbed an armored SUV parked outside the TOC and used it to break through the hordes of fighters now occupying the compound.
Dave and the two CP guys made it to the VIP Villa, whereupon they debussed and headed for the roof to put down fire onto the enemy. There they discovered Scotty, who was vomiting from severe smoke inhalation and in danger of losing consciousness. One of Scotty’s last acts had been to smash open a skylight in the VIP Villa’s roof in an effort to ventilate the interior and help the ambassador and Sean trapped inside, but it didn’t appear to have had much of a positive effect.
Dave and the CP guys took up positions on the villa roof, so they could put down aimed shots onto the scores of heavily armed Shariah fighters now converging on their position. This was the fallback defense plan if the compound itself was taken—the idea being to hold the VIP Villa long enough for reinforcements to arrive and break the siege, and drive off the attackers. But as Dave would make so clear in a cellphone call to me, they had little hope of any force getting to their aid in time, due to the massive numbers of enemy surging into the compound.
All three of them—Dave and the ambassador’s two CP guys— made repeated forays into the interior of the villa, using the same route through the window that Scotty had employed, searching for the ambassador and Sean. If anything, the conditions inside were even worse. They were forced to snake along on their bellies, to try to keep below the thick and suffocating smoke. In spite of their efforts all they achieved was to make themselves violently sick, and all three ended up on the verge of losing consciousness.
While the Americans at the Mission had been fighting this desperate battle, I was doing all in my power to make good on my promise—to stand with them if the bad guys attacked. I was billeted away from the Mission compound, but just as soon as I’d got the warning call from my guards, I’d got my driver, Massoud, to head over to my place with weapons. We’d set out across the city, intent on launching a one-man rescue mission—for I doubted very much if Massoud was coming with me, and in any case I needed him to stay with the vehicle. If I did manage to rescue the trapped Americans, we’d need a driver and set of wheels to make our getaway.
Meanwhile, at the nearby Annex, the CIA’s head of security had heard explosions echoing from the direction of the Mission. According to some media reports the call for help from the Mission was initially denied by the Annex CIA chief of base (COB), though this is disputed by the CIA. Either way, a seven-man team led by ex–Navy SEAL Tyrone S. Woods assembled—grabbing weaponry, ammunition, and night vision equipment in preparation for leaving the Annex to go to the aid of those under siege at the Mission.
Tyrone Woods was a member of the Annex’s Global Response Staff, former elite forces members contracted to provide security to CIA agents operating out of the Annex. Woods had served with the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Three and had won the Bronze Star with a Combat V for valorous duty in Iraq. He’d led 10 reconnaissance missions leading to the capture of 34 insurgents in the volatile Al Anbar Province of Iraq. He’d also completed multiple tours of Afghanistan during 20 years of service with the U.S. military.
In 2007 he’d left the military and was working in the Annex as a Global Response Staff member, and he was hugely respected in that role. Ty Woods and his team were going to the Mission’s aid, with or without the COB’s blessing. It took 25 minutes from their first being alerted to the attack for the team from the Annex to be ready to go to the Mission’s rescue.
It was just after 10:00 p.m. when they set out driving two armored Toyota Land Cruisers. There were six of them, as one operator had been left to man radios—a vital role. In the time it had taken them to prepare to leave they had tried to muster support from various pro-government militias in Benghazi—which in part accounts for the delay—but none seemed willing to come to their aid.
It took that six-man team a good 25 minutes to drive the short distance to the Mission compound. This is largely because they would run into the same kind of resistance that Massoud and I would encounter—namely, scores of Shariah gunmen and their gun trucks, equipped with heavy weaponry. Roadblocks had been put in place to stop any relief force getting to the Mission, and—unlike Massoud and myself driving a local vehicle— the Annex team in their armored SUVs were highly distinctive from some distance away.
At one point the Annex team stopped to try to convince militia members—most likely 17th February Militia, who were massed around the battleground—to join them in their efforts to retake the Mission. Those requests were denied by the militias, and the QRF team were forced to move ahead with no help and taking savage fire as they drew closer to the Mission compound.
The sheer level of hostile fire that had engulfed the Mission was fearsome, but there was no way that Ty Woods and his fellows were turning aside from their tasking. At the same time, Massoud and I were converging on the battleground. After working there for so long I figured I knew of a secret route into the compound, and I was intent on launching my own rescue attempt.
This was the start of a night of sheer hell. It was a night upon which Americans would die in the most horrific of ways, and for reasons that to this day both escape and enrage me. It was a night upon which I would fight my way into the besieged Benghazi Mission three times over, largely against orders, in an effort to find my American brothers-in-arms and to stand with them against the terrorist horde. It was a night on which I should have died many times over, along with my American buddies.
This was the blackest of nights—one that would lead me to find the American ambassador to Libya lying dead and without a fellow American by his side. I’d discover him with a tiny cut to his forehead, but otherwise looking more or less unharmed—yet he had been murdered in the most inhuman of ways. In short, this was a night of criminal failure, of individual acts of unrivaled heroism, and of untold savagery and murderous intent on the part of America’s enemies.
But when I first deployed to Benghazi, I had not the slightest inkling about the nightmare that was coming.
Copyright © 2013 by Morgan Jones and Damien Lewis. From the forthcoming book The Embassy House by Sgt. Morgan Jones and Damien Lewis to be published by Threshold Editions, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.