The Numbers Racket: U.S. Africa Command Clams Up After Contradictory Statements to Congress
General David Rodriguez might be a modern military celebrity — if he hadn’t spent his career ducking the spotlight. After graduating from West Point in 1976, he began his long march up the chain of command, serving in Operation Just Cause (the U.S. invasion of Panama) and Operation Desert Storm (Iraq War 1.0) before becoming deputy commander of United States Forces, Afghanistan, and commander of the International Security Assistance Force-Joint Command in 2009.
In 2011, the 6’5” former paratrooper received his fourth star and two years later the coveted helm of one of the Defense Department’s six geographic combatant commands, becoming the third chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Rodriguez has held that post ever since, overseeing a colossal American military expansion on that continent. During his tenure, AFRICOM has grown in every conceivable way, from outposts to manpower. In the process, Africa has become a key hub for shadowy U.S. missions against terror groups from Yemen, Iraq, and Syria to Somalia and Libya. But even as he now prepares to turn over his post to Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, Rodriguez continues to downplay the scope of U.S. operations on the continent, insisting that his has been a kinder, gentler combatant command.
As he prepares to retire, Rodriguez has an additional reason for avoiding attention. His tenure has not only also been marked by an increasing number of terror attacks from Mali and Burkina Faso to, most recently, Côte d’Ivoire, but questions have arisen about his recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Did the outgoing AFRICOM chief lie to the senators about the number of missions being carried out on the continent? Is AFRICOM maintaining two sets of books in an effort to obscure the size and scope of its expanding operations? Is the command relying on a redefinition of terms and massaging its numbers to buck potential oversight?
If Rodriguez knowingly deceived the Senate Armed Services Committee in an effort to downplay the size and scope of his command’s operations, that act would be criminal and punishable by law, experts say. That’s a big “if.” But U.S. Africa Command’s response hardly inspires confidence. AFRICOM has refused to comment on the subject, stonewalling TomDispatch on questions about why Rodriguez has been peddling contradictory figures about his command’s activities to Congress. And this rejection of transparency and accountability is only the latest incident in a long history of AFRICOM personnel ducking questions, rebuffing press inquiries, and preventing Americans from understanding what’s being done in their name and with their tax dollars in Africa.
In March 2015, General David Rodriguez appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to report on the previous year’s military missions in Africa. “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities,” he told the senators. The U.S. had, in other words, carried out a total of 674 military missions across Africa, nearly two per day, up from 546 the year before. Those 674 missions amounted to an almost 300% jump in the number of annual operations, exercises, and military-to-military trainings since U.S. Africa Command was established in 2008.
These missions form the backbone of U.S. military engagement on the continent. “The command’s operations, exercises, and security cooperation assistance programs support U.S. Government foreign policy and do so primarily through military-to-military activities and assistance programs,” according to AFRICOM. “These activities build strong, enduring partnerships with African nations, regional and international organizations, and other states that are committed to improving security in Africa.”
Very little is known about most of these missions due to AFRICOM’s secretive nature. Only a small fraction of them are reported in the command’s press releases with little of substance chronicled. An even tinier number are covered by independent journalists. “Congress and the public need to know about U.S. military operations overseas, regardless of what euphemism is used to describe them,” says William Hartung, a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor which tracks American military aid around the globe. “Calling something a ‘security cooperation activity’ doesn’t change the fact that U.S. troops are working directly with foreign military forces.”
This spring, at his annual appearance before the SASC, Rodriguez provided the senators with an update on these programs. “In fiscal year 2015,” he announced, “we conducted 75 joint operations, 12 major joint exercises, and 400 security cooperation activities.” For the first time ever, it seemed that AFRICOM had carried out fewer missions than the year before — just 487. This 28% drop was noteworthy, if little noticed.
But was it true?
Things started getting hazy when Rodriguez went on to offer a new version of the number of missions AFRICOM had carried out in 2014. To hear him tell it, 2015 hadn’t represented a drop in those missions but a banner year for them. After all, its 75 joint operations, he told the senators, topped the 68 of 2014. Twelve major joint exercises one-upped the 11 of a year earlier. And 400 security cooperation activities beat the 363 of the year before.
I did a double take and reread his 2015 statement. The discrepancy couldn’t have been plainer. His exact words last year: “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities.” And this year he said: “[W]e conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 363 security cooperation activities in fiscal year 2014.” Somehow, between 2015 and 2016, more than 200 missions from 2014 had simply vanished and, months later, AFRICOM has still failed to offer an explanation for what happened, while the Senate Armed Services Committee has, apparently, not even bothered to ask for any clarification.Wait, before you go…
If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.
Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.Support Truthdig