Gen. 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, Rodriguez continues to downplay the scope of US 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?