(CNN) – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that lack of intelligence information and logistical challenges made it difficult to respond quickly to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
Panetta said the administration had no warning about the attack, despite requests for more security from U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in the weeks leading up to the violence.
“This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time,” Panetta said on CNN's "State of the Union."
“We deployed,” he said. “We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go.”
However, he added, by the time officials got the information about the raids on the U.S. compound - which killed four Americans, including Stevens - the distance “made it very difficult to respond quickly.”
“That's just the nature of dealing with the Middle East,” said Panetta. Others in the intelligence community have frequently made similar arguments, saying they had no way of knowing the attack would happen.
Panetta said he will "probably" testify before congressional committees before he steps down from his post in the coming weeks.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that contrary to many accounts of the violence, the September 11 attack in Benghazi “wasn’t a seven-hour battle” but “two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours.”
“The idea that these were - was one continuous event is just incorrect,” he told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
The nearest armed U.S. aircraft, he continued, was in Djibouti, which is about the same distance from Benghazi as Washington is from Los Angeles.
“There's some significant physics involved and, in the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time,” said Dempsey, who added he'll give testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Dempsey said as soon as they knew something had happened, Panetta gave commanders “vocal instructions to begin moving forces to a higher alert posture and to meet them with aircraft necessary to move them.” They did exactly that, he added.
“But you can't be everyplace,” he argued. “And I might remind you, it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world, not just in Libya.”
Asked if the administration would have changed anything about the response, Dempsey said “no.”
“In these situations,” Panetta added, “you've got to look at what we we’re facing, what we knew, what intelligence we had in order to respond. Admittedly, better intelligence about what was taking place there would have given us a head start.”
Dempsey added, though, that they are "taking steps" to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.
"We've taken the Accountability Review Board results. We've partnered with the secretary of state in her review of embassy security around - especially around that part of the world," he said.
Pressed further on why the intelligence wasn’t there, Panetta, who used to head the Central Intelligence Agency, said sometimes, “that’s the reality.”
“There are areas in the Middle East where we do not have the kind of intelligence we should have in order to give us a heads-up about these kinds of attacks,” he said. “We’ve got to do better than that.”
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