Has General Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, been fired for defying Leon Panetta on Benghazi?
Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, ran a piece Saturday afternoon titled “Interesting Rumor Concerning General Carter Ham and Stand Down Order.” This piece is presented as a rumor. It suggests that General Ham was told to stand down from sending aid to Benghazi, that General Ham on his own decided to proceed, and that he was then relieved of his command. Remember, all rumor at this point.
On 18 October 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta participated in a “DOD News Briefing on Efforts to Enhance the Financial Health of the Force.” In his introductory 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 . . .”
I’ll have a lot more to say about General Carter Ham’s service in the months ahead, but let me say this. Under his leadership, AFRICOM has played a very central role in some very important missions, from the NATO campaign in Libya that led to the fall of Gadhafi; to successful counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and Yemen; to efforts that we are now involved in, in Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere. General Ham has really brought AFRICOM into a very pivotal role in that challenging region. Myself and the nation are deeply grateful for his outstanding service. This is not a rumor, but it also does not provide a reason for the change. Note that Mr. Panetta gives no insight into General Ham’s future. General Ham is not quite 61 years old and so has three years left before mandatory retirement age of 64. General Ham has been commissioned for 36 years but did serve as an enlisted man prior to gaining his commission, so he might have the mandatory retirement 40 years of service.
The New York Times ran an article by Elisabeth Bumiller titled “Panetta Says Risk Impeded Deployment to Benghazi.” The article refers to the night of 11/12 September and includes the following: As a result, Mr. Panetta said, he and two top commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.” The commanders are Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Carter F. Ham of Africa Command, which oversees American military operations in Africa, including Libya. You probably have seen similar clips on TV. The impression being given by Mr. Panetta is that the three of them agreed upon the course of action.
Not how it works in the military. The junior person present gives his views, the next junior, his, and so on up the line until the senior person, in this case Mr. Panetta, makes the decision. It is not a vote and there is only one person with a veto, the senior person, Mr. Panetta. Of course, he could have had marching orders from higher up in the chain of command. Note also that the NYT piece, written eight days after Mr. Panetta’s announcement, makes no mention of General Ham being replaced as commander of U.S. Africa Command. Is it not relevant?