Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told members of Congress on Wednesday that Army special forces in Tripoli were never told to "stand down" from rushing to Benghazi to help when the diplomatic mission there came under attack last year.
In doing so, he disputed the claims of Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya who testified last month before a House committee that a unit of four special forces troops was told to stand down rather than rush to Benghazi.
The September 11 attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Members of Congress, especially House Republicans, have aggressively sought answers from the military and the Obama administration about the response to the terror assault and why armed forces were not dispatched quickly to help.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified earlier this year that "unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi. And frankly, without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond."
Under questioning from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, Dempsey said the special forces contingent was not told to stand down but rather given a different mission.
"By the time they contacted the command center in Stuttgart (Germany), they were told the individuals in Benghazi were on their way back and that they would be better used at the Tripoli airport."
Dempsey said had the four troops flown to Benghazi at that time, the victims would have been on a plane flying to Tripoli.
"If they had gone, they would have simply passed each other in the air," he said.
Earlier, Dempsey was asked about whistleblower reports that commanders of the Libyan unit were not at their base in Stuttgart or even in Europe.
He responded to Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, that the commanders were in Europe, but they were on a training mission. That meant the response time was much longer than it might have been had they been in Germany, and a lot longer than the three to four hours that the whistleblower suggested.
"No, I would not agree to that time line," Dempsey said. "The travel time alone would have been more than that, and that's if they were sitting on the tarmac."
Dempsey was testifying at a hearing on the military budget.