According to aircraft spotters and trackers, at least a dozen MC-130H and HC-130N (aerial refueling tanker and combat search and rescue), HC-130P (Special operations infiltration/extraction variant) and AC-130U (gunships) crossed the Atlantic Ocean on September 13 heading eastbound. These aircraft are typically used for a variety of special tasks, including in close cooperation with special operations forces. The last reported stop for the aircraft was Souda Bay [Crete].
It now appears that these aircraft have been staging out of Crete, conducting day and night missions in Libyan airspace. The aircraft operating in the area are likely transporting and supporting special operations troops on the ground who could be running reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations in Libya. In fact, an unnamed US military official reportedly has said that US special operations forces are in Libya meeting with informants and using signals intelligence and overhead imaging (from UAVs and satellites) to collect information on militant networks in the country.
We might be ramping up for an October surprise – payback for Ambassador Stephens and the three-man security team that perished in Benghazi on September 11th. If so, it would be a relatively benign piece of political theater. God knows if we manage to kill the right people, it would be welcome news. The trick, of course, if it is meant to happen before the election, they’ve got 25 days to identify the shooters, find them, isolate them, and hit them. All in an area where we have few assets close to the ground.
Running foreign assets isn’t easily done – it generally takes time to select them, vet them, contact them, turn them and read them in on their part of the mission. And you still might have some infiltrators (or buyer’s remorse types) who will merely pass your plans along to the other side. Don’t get me wrong – I honestly hope they can get the guys responsible for the attack on our consulate. It’s just an uphill climb to do it in time for the election.