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TRR: Is a General losing his job over Benghazi?

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See also the update that General Ham is retiring from the force.

(Updated 10/29) Is an American General losing his job for trying to save the Americans besieged in Benghazi? This is the latest potential wrinkle in the growing scandal surrounding the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack that left four men dead and President Obama scrambling for a coherent explanation.

On October 18, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared unexpectedly at an otherwise unrelated briefing on “Efforts to Enhance the Financial Health of the Force.” News organizations and CSPAN were told beforehand there was no news value to the event and gave it scant coverage. In his brief remarks Mr. Panetta said, “Today I am very pleased to announce that President Obama will nominate General David Rodriguez to succeed General Carter Ham as commander of U.S. Africa Command.” This came as a surprise to many, since General Ham had only been in the position for a year and a half. The General is a very well regarded officer who made AFRICOM into a true Combatant Command after the ineffective leadership of his predecessor, General William E. “Kip” Ward. Later, word circulated informally that General Ham was scheduled to rotate out in March 2013 anyway, but according to Joint doctrine, “the tour length for combatant commanders and Defense agency directors is three years.” Some assumed that he was leaving for unspecified personal reasons.

However on October 26, “Ambassador” posted the following RUMINT on TigerDroppings (h/t Jim Hoft):

I heard a story today from someone inside the military that I trust entirely. The story was in reference to General Ham that Panetta referenced in the quote below. 

quote:


“(The) basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” Panetta told Pentagon reporters. “And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”


The information I heard today was that General Ham as head of Africom received the same e-mails the White House received requesting help/support as the attack was taking place. General Ham immediately had a rapid response unit ready and communicated to the Pentagon that he had a unit ready. 

General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command. 

The story continues that now General Rodiguez would take General Ham’s place as the head of Africom. 

This version of events contradicts Mr. Panetta’s October 25 statement that General Ham advised against intervention. But so far there is nothing solid to back it up. Maybe Ham attempted to send a reaction force against orders, or maybe he simply said the wrong thing to the wrong people. Perhaps he gave whomever he was talking to up the chain a piece of his mind about leaving Americans to die when there was a chance of saving them. At the very least U.S. forces might have made those who killed our people pay while they were still on the scene. The Obama White House is famously vindictive against perceived disloyalty – the administration would not let Ham get away with scolding them for failing to show the leadership necessary to save American lives. The Army’s ethos is to leave no man behind, but that is not shared by a president accustomed to leading from that location.

The question remains why the repeated requests – which is to say desperate pleas – to send a relief force were refused. Perhaps Mr. Obama and his national security brain trust thought the terrorist assault would be a minor skirmish and quickly blow over. When it became clear that the attack was something more serious, they may have had visions of the rescue team getting involved in a Mogadishu-like firefight, a “Blackhawk Down 2.” This would have been too much for the risk-averse Mr. Obama, particularly in a Muslim country, and less than two months before the election. Instead they simply watched the live video hoped for the best. If there were American fatalities, they felt they could shift blame for the circumstance to the supposed Youtube video which they had already blamed for the riot at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo hours earlier. In fact the Embassy had sent out its “apology” tweets even before the Cairo riot commenced.

Hillary Clinton’s freakishly bizarre statement on September 14 is also worth noting. At a memorial service to the fallen she told Charles Woods, father of slain former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, that “we will make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.” In that situation one would expect her to vow to take down the terrorists who killed Tyrone, not the supposed instigator of the spontaneous mob action that never happened.

But since when does the Secretary of State feel it is her duty to promise to have an American filmmaker who has committed no crime arrested? For all the bowing and scraping to Islam that has gone on in the last four years, blasphemy against that or any other faith is still not illegal in this country. The First Amendment still exists. It is strange that Mrs. Clinton believed that the parents of the slain Americans would empathize with her outrage at the filmmaker, rather than reserve their anger for the extremists who actually did the killing. But as Mr. Woods said, he “could tell that she was not telling me the truth.” Indeed the truth has been the fifth casualty in this entire tragic affair.

 

UPDATE: On Sunday October 28 I received the following communique from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little: 

“The insinuations in your story are flat wrong.  General Ham is an outstanding leader of AFRICOM.  Future leadership changes at this important command have absolutely nothing to do with the attack on American personnel in Benghazi.  The leadership changes have been long planned.” 

Of course I never suggested that General Ham was anything other than an outstanding leader of AFRICOM and in fact said as much. But why is an outstanding leader of this important command leaving after less than two years when all other combatant commanders have longer tenures? General Ham’s predecessor stayed in the job much longer and was generally less well regarded. Further discussion of these issues may help begin to restore the administration’s credibility on the Benghazi issue.

 

UPDATE 2: On Monday October 29 General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, released the following statement:

“The speculation that General Carter Ham is departing Africa Command (AFRICOM) due to events in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 is absolutely false. General Ham’s departure is part of routine succession planning that has been on going since July. He continues to serve in AFRICOM with my complete confidence.”

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About the Author

James S. Robbins

James S. Robbins, Ph.D., former Senior Editorial Writer for Foreign Affairs, was formerly professor of international relations at the National Defense University, associate professor of international relations at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld. Dr. Robbins is author of the recently released "This Time ...

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