Source: Ham not forced out of Africa com­mand

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to grant re­tire­ment to the top gen­eral of U.S. Africa Com­mand is part of the in­ter­nal jock­ey­ing that goes on among the mil­i­tary branches to win top war-fight­ing as­sign­ments and was not re­lated to the ter­ror­ist at­tack on the U.S. diplo­matic com­pound in Beng­hazi, Libya, a well-placed mil­i­tary source told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Ever since De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta ear­lier this month an­nounced the de­par­ture of Army Gen. Carter F. Ham from Africa Com­mand, the In­ter­net has been abuzz with spec­u­la­tion that he was pushed out. The ru­mor mill sug­gests he was fired for not or­der­ing forces to in­ter­vene di­rectly in Beng­hazi dur­ing mil­i­tant at­tacks on the U.S. Con­sulate and a nearby CIA base. Oth­ers spec­u­lated that he wanted to send forces but was over­ruled. U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans were killed in the at­tack.

The real story of Gen. Ham’s re­tire­ment is linked to the ca­reer of Gen. David M. Ro­driguez, one of the Army’s top field com­man­ders. He now heads Army Forces Com­mand, a non-war-fight­ing job that en­sures the readi­ness of 820,000 sol­diers.

Forces com­mand is not among the most prized as­sign­ments for a war fighter. The most cov­eted posts sought by the four mil­i­tary branches, out­side the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are the ge­o­graphic com­bat­ant com­mands.

The four-star com­man­ders fight the na­tion’s wars. None is more prom­i­nent than the chief of the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, which led the war in Iraq and is over­see­ing Afghanistan. That war has its own four-star, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, in a post that has all the pres­tige of a com­bat­ant com­man­der.

The story be­gins when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided to cut Gen. Allen’s tour short and move him to Brussels next spring as the top NATO com­man­der and chief of the U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand.

In­ter­nally, the Army top brass lob­bied to re­place Gen. Allen with Gen. Ro­driguez. He held a se­nior com­mand in Afghanistan last year and has the in-coun­try know-how to carry out Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­ci­sion to me­thod­i­cally with­draw U.S. forces by the end of 2014. The Pen­tagon has pulled out 33,000 “surge” forces this year, leav­ing about 68,000 troops.

To the Army’s cha­grin, the de­fense sec­re­tary and the White House opted for an­other Marine, Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford Jr., whom Mr. Obama in­stalled as the as­sis­tant Marine Corps com­man­dant in 2010.

“The Army wanted that com­mand,” the mil­i­tary source said. “They are putting some­one in that com­mand who has no Afghanistan ex­pe­ri­ence ver­sus Ro­driguez who has con­sid­er­able.”

Gen. Dun­ford had ex­ten­sive com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence in Iraq.

In a sort of com­pro­mise, Mr. Panetta found a pres­ti­gious com­bat­ant com­mand for Gen. Ro­driguez. Com­mu­nist Party’s mo­nop­oly on power and its in­te­gral role in party power pol­i­tics. The one that was open­ing up next year was Africa Com­mand, which has grown in im­por­tance with the emer­gence of al-Qaeda-like Is­lamic ter­ror­ist groups in North Africa.

“Joint com­mands have a much higher sta­tus than an in-ser­vice four-star com­mand,” the mil­i­tary source said. “He’s a com­bat­ant com­man­der in an op­er­a­tional com­mand with the po­ten­tial to go to war. Those are the most de­sir­able po­si­tions. They are the most sought-af­ter.”

The de­fense sec­re­tary an­nounced the change in mid-Oc­to­ber amid the Wash­ing­ton brouhaha over Beng­hazi, trig­ger­ing the In­ter­net guess­ing about Gen. Ham. The Pen­tagon said Gen. Ham’s re­tire­ment had noth­ing to do with Beng­hazi.

Com­bat­ant com­man­ders typ­i­cally serve two-year terms, some­times three years, then re­tire or trans­fer. Gen. Ham’s 24-months comes due in March, so he may leave a month or two early af­ter Gen. Ro­driguez is con­firmed by the Se­nate.

The Wash­ing­ton Times asked the Pen­tagon whether the Army had urged that its gen­eral get the Afghanistan job. A se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial said, “Gen. Ro­driguez is one hell of a ter­rific of­fi­cer and some­one who was se­lected for AfriCom for his abil­ity to lead this im­por­tant re­gional com­mand.”

The Times re­ported Nov. 5 that Gen. Ham, mon­i­tor­ing the Sept. 11-12 at­tacks in Beng­hazi, had only one real op­tion to in­ter­vene di­rectly: F-16s sta­tioned at Aviano Air Base, across the Mediter­ranean in Italy.

Africa Com­mand lacked a quick-re­ac­tion force, and Gen. Ham had to bor­row Euro­pean Com­mand’s unit. He also called on a na­tional spe­cial-op­er­a­tions re­sponse team in the United States, but both ar­rived too late in Si­cily. The Beng­hazi siege had ended by about 6 a.m. lo­cal time Sept. 12.

Gen­eral Carter F. Ham

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