By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta condemned yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in the “strongest possible terms,” a senior government official said today.
“The secretary also extends his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the entire State Department family,” the official said.
Panetta joined President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton in condemning the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith and two others whose names are being withheld until State Department officials notify their families. Three other Americans were wounded in the attack.
“The Department of Defense is ready to respond with additional military measures as directed by the president,” the official added.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, briefed Panetta last night on the situation in Benghazi, the official said. The secretary has since received regular updates.
“DOD is working closely with the White House and the State Department to provide all necessary resources to support the security of U.S. personnel in Libya,” the official said.
“This support includes a Marine Corps fleet antiterrorism security team based out of Europe,” he said, adding that the team’s mission is to secure the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and protect U.S. citizens.
DOD is also providing support to evacuate American personnel and casualties out of Libya, the official added.
“Those individuals and the remains of our fallen colleagues will arrive, if they haven’t already done so, at Ramstein [Air Base] and Landstuhl [Regional Medical Center] in Germany,” the official said.
This morning, the official said, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placed a call to Pastor Terry Jones about a film by a U.S. producer that is insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.
Jones, pastor of the fundamentalist Christian Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., is known for his 2010 plan to burn Qur'ans, the scripture of the Islamic religion, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. According to news reports, he also supports the recent film.
The film also was reported to have caused protests by angry crowds yesterday at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
“I can confirm that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, spoke by phone this morning with Pastor Jones,” the official said.
“This was a brief call in which Gen. Dempsey expressed his concerns over the nature of the film, the tensions it could inflame and the violence it could cause, and he asked Mr. Jones to consider withdrawing his support for the film,” he said.
Jones did listen to the chairman’s concerns but was noncommittal, the official said.