The U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, CNN has learned.
A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is "minute by minute, hour by hour," a defense official told CNN on Monday.
Fierce fighting swept across the city Sunday after armed men stormed the country's interim Parliament. Sporadic bursts of gunfire and blasts could still be heard on the outskirts of the capital Monday evening.
The violence appeared to be some of the worst since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In a move that could further inflame an already tense situation, the speaker of the interim parliament, Nuri Abu Sahmain, who is backed by Islamist forces, ordered troops known as the "Central Libya Shield Forces" to deploy to the capital Monday, the Libyan state news agency LANA reported.
The forces, mostly from the city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, are considered to be among the most powerful Islamist-affiliated militias. They have had long-running rivalries with the heavily armed Zintan militias when both groups were based in the capital.
Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to Libya announced that his country's embassy and consulate in Tripoli closed Monday because of the violence, and the staff has left Tripoli, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The sites will reopen when the situation stabilizes, Ambassador Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Ali said, according to the report.
Turkey took similar measures, shutting down its consulate in Benghazi, Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency reported.
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Today, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected the lift the military's ban on women in combat. The move will open up hundreds of thousands of jobs for women who want to serve on the front lines.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) weighs in on the decision on Starting Point this morning, calling the choice a "very positive step."
"I think it’s overdue and it’s wonderful for several reasons. First it’s going to be an extraordinary opportunity for women and it’s also going to be extraordinary for the institution itself," Schiff says. "Whenever we’ve integrated an institution it not only benefits the women that now have new job opportunities but it benefits the institution with better leadership and better coordination."
Rep. Schiff also discusses Hillary Clinton's testimony at yesterday's hearing on Benghazi, calling the "excessive and partisan focus" on the intelligence community's initial report that the attack was spawned by protests a "horrendous distraction."
"It used to be that the partisanship ended at the waters edge, but not any more, not even when fatalities are involved," Schiff remarks.
Ambassador Susan Rice faced three Republican senators yesterday to explain her side of the story after they criticized her for comments on Sunday talk shows regarding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. She had suggested the attack was sparked by spontaneous protests in her September 16 interviews, and revealed yesterday that she was using unclassified talking points that excluded information linking the attack to al Qaeda. The GOP senators had only harsher criticisms of Rice after her meeting with them. CNN’s Dana Bash has the details.
Ex-CIA Director David Petraeus will be testifying on Capitol Hill this morning about what he knew regarding the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Bengazi. The House and Senate intelligence hearings will take place behind closed doors. This will be the first time Patraeus will speak to government officials since he resigned last week over an extra-marital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Sources told CNN’s Barbara Starr that Petraeus wants to clear up "a lot of misrepresentations of what he told congress initially," and that he saw two streams of intelligence about the attack.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee also held a hearing on Thursday over Benghazi. California Republican Congressman Ed Royce is a ranking member of that committee and Chairman of the Terrorism Subcommittee. He joins John Berman on "Early Start" to discuss today's hearing.
Some Republicans have questioned whether Patraeus’ resignation was linked to what he knew about the attack on the diplomatic mission in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Rep. Royce thinks his testimony today will be to clarify what he knew about it and clear the record of the CIA.
“I think the reason General Patraeus wants to testify,” Royce says, “is because he knew almost instantaneously that this was an attack linked to al Qaeda.” Royce says its important to questions why Patraeus and the White House would maintain the “line of argument” that a video was responsible for the attack in “the face of the facts.”
The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to meet Friday to investigate the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus was scheduled to testify in the hearing, but he withdrew from the appearance after announcing his resignation last Friday due to an extramarital affair. However, the four-star general confirmed yesterday that he'll testify after all.
Republican congressional leaders had insisted he testify and General Petraeus has now agreed to a closed door meeting before the Senate panel sometime today and the House committee tomorrow.
New York Republican Congressman Peter King is a member of Intelligence Committee and Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and he joins Early Start this morning to respond to this recent development.
Describing what he'll ask the former CIA Director, King says he’ll listen to what Petraeus has to say now "as to what he believes happened in Benghazi, and also ask him to square that with what he told us…three days after the attack, when he basically dismissed any possibility that it was a terrorist attack."
King says that he's concerned about finding out “how [Petraeus] reached that conclusion on September 14, what's changed since then, and how much he's learned since then that was different from what he knew.”
The Congressman also discusses his criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
Ana Navarro and Richard Socarides look at how the US Consulate attack in Libya could shape the presidential debate.
From CNN's Elise Labott:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.
"I take responsibility" for the protection of U.S. diplomats, Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead.
The attack on the night of September 11 killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador, and three other Americans at the American consulate in Benghazi.
On "Early Start" this morning, CNN's Elise Labott shares more details from her interview with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton on security for US interests at Libya consulate.
READ MORE: Clinton: I’m responsible for diplomats’ security
John Berman fact checks claims on the US Consulate attack in Benghazi and Iran's nuclear capabilities in the VP debate.
Washington (CNN) – The State Department's former point man on security in Libya told a congressional hearing Wednesday that his superiors worked against him as he tried to get more help for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in the months before it was overrun in a deadly terror attack.
Eric Nordstrom, the one-time regional security officer, told the House Oversight Committee that he had a disheartening conversation with the regional director of the agency's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs when he requested additional manpower for the facility.
He also told the State Department officer, "'For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
That bombshell ended a contentious hearing during which two State Department officials defended the Obama administration's handling of the September 11 attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
This morning on "Early Start," CNN's Elise Labott explains what came out of the hearings and where the investigation leads from here.
READ MORE: U.S. official says superiors worked against effort to boost Benghazi security
From CNN's Jill Doherty & Elise Labott
In the most detailed explanation yet of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, two senior State Department officials said there was no prior indication that an attack was imminent.
The officials, who briefed reporters on background in a conference call Tuesday evening, said there was "nothing unusual" throughout the day of the attack, September 11. The ambassador held an evening meeting with a Turkish diplomat and then retired to his room in one of the compound's buildings at 9 p.m., according to the officials.
The call, a day ahead of a congressional hearing into security failings at the diplomatic mission, was an attempt to offer the State Department's view that the severity of the attack and speed at which it unfolded made it impossible to defend even with some of the increased security measures that had been requested – but not fulfilled – before September 11.
This morning on "Early Start," CNN's Elise Labott explains the latest details in the investigation into the attack in Benghazi.
READ MORE: State Department officials: Benghazi attack 'unprecedented'
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