It’s rare to hear one top military commander publicly badmouth another, call attention to his faults, or simply point out his shortcomings. Despite a seemingly endless supply of debacles from strategic setbacks to quagmire conflicts since 9/11, the top brass rarely criticize each other or, even in retirement, utter a word about the failings of their predecessors or successors. Think of it as the camouflage wall of silence. You may loathe him. You may badmouth him behind closed doors. You may have secretly hoped for his career to implode. But publicly point out failures? That’s left to those further down the chain of command.
And yet that’s effectively exactly what newly installed US Africa Command (AFRICOM) chief, General Thomas Waldhauser, did earlier this year in a statement to the Senate Arms Services Committee (SASC). It’s just that no one, almost certainly including Waldhauser himself, seemed to notice or recognize it for the criticism it was, including the people tasked with oversight of military operations and those in the media.
Over these last years, the number of personnel, missions, dollars spent, and special ops training efforts as well as drone bases and other outposts on the continent have all multiplied. At the same time, incoming AFRICOM commanders have been publicly warning about the escalating perils and challenges from terror groups that menace the command’s area of operations. Almost no one, however–neither those senators nor the media–has raised pointed questions, no less demanded frank answers, about why such crises on the continent have so perfectly mirrored American military expansion.
Asked earlier this year about the difficulties he’d face if confirmed, Waldhauser was blunt: “A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and ISIL in Libya.”
That should have been a déjà vu moment for some of those senators. Three years earlier, the man previously nominated to lead AFRICOM, General David Rodriguez, was asked the same question. His reply was suspiciously similar: “A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.”