By Scott Stearns
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says last September's attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi is part of wider terrorist insecurity across North Africa. Clinton made the remarks during testimony Wednesday before Congress on the attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Benghazi attack is just one example of the broader strategic challenge for the United States and African allies in the fight against terrorism.
"The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria," she said.
Clinton said the Obama administration remains in close contact with Algerian authorities about last week's hostage taking at a natural gas plant near the Libyan border and offers its deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured.
"We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent terrorist attacks like this in the future," said Clinton.
Testifying about the State Department's response to the Benghazi violence, she said she has accepted all of the recommendations from an independent review, and 85 percent of those will be completed by the end of March.
"We are taking a top-to-bottom look, and rethinking how we make decisions on where, when, and how our people operate in high threat areas, and how we respond to threats and crises."
Clinton said the United States continues to hunt the terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks and is determined to bring them to justice.
Later Wednesday, she is to testify before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
This likely will be her last congressional testimony before she leaves office in the near future. President Barack Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to replace her.
The Accountability Review Board that investigated the attack said senior level "systematic failures and management deficiencies" within two State Department bureaus led to a security posture that was inadequate to deal with terrorist attacks at the facilities in Benghazi.
It said the number of diplomatic security staff members there at the time of the attack was "inadequate" in spite of repeated requests from diplomats in Libya for additional staffing.
It made many recommendations, including increased security at temporary facilities in high-risk areas. It also urged the State Department to lengthen the duty assignments for program and security personnel at high-risk posts.
The panel said the "short-term, transitory nature" of staffing at the Benghazi mission had resulted in "diminished institutional knowledge" and a lack of continuity.
Initial response criticized
The Benghazi attack and the initial response the Obama administration became a highly charged issue in the weeks leading up to his November re-election.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was criticized by Republican lawmakers after she initially described the attack as a "spontaneous reaction" to protests near the U.S. embassy in Cairo in response to an anti-Islamic video that was produced in the United States.
Rice said she was repeating information that had been provided to her by the U.S. intelligence community. But the continued Republican criticism led her to withdraw her name from consideration to replace Clinton as secretary of state.