WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Libya said Tuesday that she will work to ensure sufficient security at U.S. facilities nearly eight months after poor protection in Benghazi was blamed for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Deborah Kay Jones, a career diplomat who has served in Kuwait, Argentina, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if she sees any shortfalls in security, she will immediately contact Washington.
"I have throughout my career always had a direct connection with Washington," Jones said. "It is the role of the ambassador. The ambassador is the principle security officer."
If confirmed by the Senate, Jones would fill the post left vacant when Stevens was killed during the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission. A scathing independent report concluded that systematic management and leadership failures at the State Department led to "grossly" inadequate security at the mission.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to hold a hearing on the assault Wednesday with former diplomats. Gregory Hicks, who was a diplomat in Tripoli during the attack, has told the committee that four members of Army special forces ready to head to Benghazi after the assault on the American diplomatic mission had ended were told not to go.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee highlighted the difficulty Libya has faced since the ousting and death of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
On Tuesday, Libya's defense minister, Mohammed Al-Barghathi, rescinded his decision to resign in protest over the show of force by militias that stormed government buildings. Al-Barghathi had called it an "assault on democracy and elected authorities."
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel, asked Jones if the U.S. had underestimated the post-Gadhafi challenges in Libya.
"I don't know that we underestimated," Jones said. "I know the setback of not having an ambassador on the ground. The progress after these kinds of transitions is not formulaic."
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the panel, said the security situation is still difficult and pointed out that "the central government is unable to assert its control outside of Tripoli, and the broader challenge of disarming and reintegrating former-fighters remains."