Pentagon does about-face on key Benghazi witness, makes Marine colonel available to talk to Congress
- Col. George Bristol was in charge of Special Operations Forces in Northern Africa on the night of the Benghazi, Libya terror attack
- The Dept. of Defense had refused to tell Congress where to find him, claiming that he was retired and entitled to protection under privacy laws
- After pressure from Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Pentagon has changed its mind - now acknowledging that Bristol is not yet retired
- Questions remain about why commandos were not sent to Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, even though a team was standing by to board a plane
The U.S. Department of Defense has agreed to make available to Congress a Marine Corps colonel who was in command of U.S. Special Forces in Northern Africa on the night armed terrorists staged a military-style assault on an American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
US Marine Corps Col. George Bristol commanded Special Operations Forces in Northern Africa when terrorists attacked the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Pentagon has caved to congressional requests to make him available to answer questions about that attack, which left the U.S. Ambassador dead
A series of requests for Marine Col. George Bristol's testimony from Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, had fallen on deaf ears until Friday. The Pentagon had claimed that since Bristol had retired, it 'cannot compel' him to tell congressional panels what he knows about the Benghazi attack.
Chaffetz said on July 9 that the Defense Department was 'not willing to pass along any sort of information' related to Bristol's whereabouts.
Now Air Force Maj. Robert Firman has confirmed to MailOnline that due to an 'administrative error,' Bristol was mistakenly classified as a retired officer despite his current active-duty status.
'The Department of Defense has fully cooperated with congressional requests to understand the attacks on the Benghazi compound,' Firman said. 'Col. George Bristol, USMC, will be available to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs.'
MailOnline has located Bristol's home in Northern Virginia in recent weeks. On Thursday evening a woman answered the door and confirmed that he lived there, but the colonel himself has not responded to four separate requests for an interview.
Sources have said Bristol was out of the country on non-military business until July 14.
Chaffetz's and Graham's offices did not immediately offer reactions to the Pentagon's change of heart.
Firman told MailOnline that the about-face came after Sen. Graham sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday, asking for reconsideration.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (L) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) have been among the driving forces behind obtaining testimony from key military and civilian witnesses to the Benghazi attack. 'You can't do a thorough investigation without talking to everyone who knows something or saw something,' Chaffetz told MailOnline on July 9
That move followed a report in the Marine Corps Times, which cited a Marine Corps source in concluding that Bristol's retirement would not become final until August 1.
On Tuesday Firman had told the newspaper, in error, that 'Col. Bristol was not invited by Congress to testify before he retired.'
Bristol's testimony could provide a crucial missing link in lawmakers' understanding of what happened in Benghazi.
In his letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday, Sen. Graham cited Bristol's 'in-depth knowledge of the region, coupled with his close interaction with U.S. Special Operations Forces operating on the African continent.'
'[H]e would be the ideal person to speak with,' Graham wrote, 'about what happened on the ground in Benghazi.'
In particular, Republicans in both the House and Senate have been frustrated by their inability to learn why Special Operations Forces were prevented from boarding a military plane in Tripoli during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack - a plane that was already preparing to take off for Benghazi.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Robert Firman (L) confirmed that Bristol would be made available to Congress. That followed a letter from Sen. Graham to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (R)
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, and three other U.S. personnel, died in the attack.
On that day, Bristol was commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, placing him directly in the chain of command where decisions were made about evaluating and deploying assault teams when American personnel in Northern Africa are in harm's way.
Other military officials have testified before Congress, including Gen. Carter Ham, who appeared on June 26 before a closed session of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Libyan military guards stood watch over the burned-out U.S. Consulate in Benghazi just three days after the attack. The FBI didn't arrive on the scene to investigate for nearly three weeks
Bristol’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he led a task force with authority over military special operations in 12 countries, including forces tasked with countering violent extremist organizations.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi attack, and Congress is still investigating
During a change of command ceremony in March 2013 that saw him rotated out of command, he said 'an evil' had taken hold in Africa, and 'it is on us to stomp it out.'
'Africa is not the next ridgeline,' Bristol told Stars and Stripes. 'It is where the enemy is going now. And we are going to do something about it.'
A Pentagon official told MailOnline that incorrect information about Bristol's retirement date reflected 'confusion within different offices in the Pentagon,' and was not a concerted effort to keep the colonel from testifying.
But 'we just don't keep a database of where people are' after they retire from active duty, the official added.
At that point, 'the VA is responsible for supporting them. They would have a better link to a retiree than the DOD would.'
General Carter F. Ham, the commander of the U.S. military's Africa Command when the Benghazi consulate came under attack, testified before a Congressional panel despite his non-active-duty status because his retirement wasn't yet official. The Pentagon now says Col. Bristol's situation is a similar one
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames after terror organizations, including the al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Sharia, bombarded the State Department's outposts there