U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday told CNN that she assumes responsibility for the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last month.
"I take responsibility" for what happened in the September assault, Clinton said in an interview during a visit to Lima, Peru.
She added: "I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha," citing the November 6 presidential election. She insisted President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had not been involved in security decisions related to the consulate.
The attacks on the Benghazi mission, and the Obama administration's response to the violence, has become a contentious election issue and Clinton's comments came a day before the second presidential debate between Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
Romney has seized on the attack and said the death of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans killed at the consulate reveal weakness in Obama's foreign policy. Romney has accused the administration of not providing adequate security to American diplomats and misrepresenting the nature of the attack.
Foreign policy has been considered a strength for Obama, who has been praised for the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the withdrawal of troops from unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress has increased pressure on the State Department to release information about the attack. Obama and Clinton have both vowed a full investigation.
"We can't not engage," Clinton told CNN. "We cannot retreat."
Clinton also sought to play down criticism that the administration initially linked the violence to deaths to a protest over an anti-Muslim film.
There is always "confusion" after an attack, she said.
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U.S. to create Libyan commando unit
According to a New York Times report, the Obama administration won Congress’s approval last month to delegate about $8 million from the Pentagon’s budget to found an elite Libyan commando force, meant to combat Islamic extremists.
American military special forces personnel would be responsible for the training of such a unit, as they have done in other Middle Eastern nations. The Libyan unit could reach about 500 troops over the next year, according to the report.
The Times also reported that the plan to establish such a unit in Libya was underway before the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, in Benghazi, but the attack has added more urgency to get the project off the ground.