Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters that Army Gen. Carter Ham’s planned departure was “an entirely personal decision.”
Ham is U.S. Africa Commander who – if information leaked primarily to FOX News is true – was a key figure in the controversy surrounding U.S. failure to provide assistance to Americans caught in the terrorist onslaught.
According to FOX, Americans at the Benghazi mission and Navy SEALs at a nearby annex repeatedly asked for assistance via e-mail and radio during the seven-hour siege. An overhead drone also fed real-time video, per FOX, to the State Department, White House and Ham’s headquarters in Germany.
Still, no assistance came although President Obama told reporters Oct. 26 that he immediately ordered U.S. forces to do everything necessary to protect the lives of Americans. Who received that order has not been identified, although Ham told reporters he received no directive from the White House or Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta later told reporters that a strike was not possible due to “incomplete information.” That assessment was given despite proof that Washington officials had real-time, streaming video of the battle scene and frequent contact with Americans on the ground.
Little said Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey continue to have “full confidence” in Ham. In an Oct. 29 statement, Dempsey said, “The speculation that Gen. Ham is departing due to events in Benghazi is absolutely false. Gen. Ham’s departure is part of routine succession planning that has been ongoing since July.”
Little conceded that Ham has been the subject of rumor and speculation particularly in the blogosphere.
“And that speculation and those rumors are absolutely, categorically false,” he was quoted in a Pentagon press release. “He will continue to lead Africa Command and he is on the job, doing it effectively. We expect him to do so until he retires.”
The president announced Oct. 18 his nomination of Army Gen. David Rodriguez to succeed Ham. Little said he did not have a timeline for the transition.
“A lot will depend on Senate action,” he said. “We believe the hearings will take place in the next couple of months and then we’ll decide when a change of command is appropriate.”