US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will answer questions from the Senate on Thursday about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya last year that left four Americans dead.
Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will appear before the Armed Services Committee.
The questioning of the defense officials follows the sometimes emotional and fiery testimony of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was grilled two weeks ago by Senate and House panels about the attack in her final appearance on Capitol Hill as secretary of State.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, were killed in the Sept. 11 attack. Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for its initial explanations about what happened and for not doing more to respond to security concerns.
The latest Benghazi hearing comes as President Obama tries to get his new national security team in place, amid pushback from Republicans. A committee vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to replace Panetta as Defense secretary was postponed so the embattled nominee, a former senator and Republican, can answer questions in writing.
In another part of the Senate on Thursday, CIA director-designate John Brennan faces questions from the Intelligence Committee. Brennan, currently serving as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, will be asked about the Obama administration's use of drones to kill suspected al-Qaeda leaders.
On the Libya attack, Panetta and Dempsey have said the lack of intelligence information and logistical issues - such as distances between Benghazi and the armed U.S. aircraft that were located in the region - made it challenging for American forces to respond quickly.
"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 Sunday on CNN.
Thursday's hearing is likely to be Panetta's final appearance before Congress, where he served for years as a House member from California. The Pentagon has scheduled a farewell ceremony for Panetta on Friday.