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Three Senior Pentagon Officials Leave in Quick Succession

Departures come amid speculation that Defense Secretary Mattis is on his way out.

From left: Robert Story Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Thomas Goffus, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO, and
Alan Patterson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. (William Pratt/U.S. Army/Department of Defense/Foreign Policy illustration)
From left: Robert Story Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Thomas Goffus, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO, and Alan Patterson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. (William Pratt/U.S. Army/Department of Defense/Foreign Policy illustration)

The U.S. Defense Department’s top Africa policy official stepped down last month, in the third departure among the department’s senior civilian leaders in recent weeks amid speculation that Defense Secretary James Mattis will also be leaving his post after the midterm elections.

Alan Patterson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, departed his post in October, Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Candice Tresch confirmed to Foreign Policy. Patterson previously had a long career in the CIA, culminating with two years as chief of operations for the CIA’s Africa Mission Center from 2015 to 2017.

Patterson’s departure follows news revealed exclusively by FP that Thomas Goffus, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO policy, also stepped down last month. Goffus’s last day at the Pentagon was Oct. 26, according to chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White. He is expected to join the Senate Armed Services Committee as deputy staff director under Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who will remain as chairman of the powerful committee if Republicans hold on to the Senate in the midterm elections next week.

A third senior member of Mattis’s international affairs team, Robert Karem, the assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, is also leaving his Senate-confirmed Pentagon job to work for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). He previously served as a staffer to McConnell and other Republican congressional leaders in.

Jim Townsend, who held Goffus’s role under the Obama administration and said he knew of Goffus’s departure, said it wasn’t unusual for senior officials to leave their posts after two years, given the stress and pressures of senior government jobs.

But the raft of departures comes at a delicate time for the Pentagon in an administration marked by chaotic policy processes and fierce political infighting. Sources tell FP that National Security Advisor John Bolton and his deputy are spreading rumors about Mattis’s imminent departure—rumors the secretary and the White House staunchly denied in public statements—in order to squeeze out the retired U.S. Marine Corps general.

One former Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said senior civilians at the Pentagon are eyeing the exit amid rumors of Mattis’s departure following a 60 Minutes interview in which U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the defense chief might not stay on. “Everyone went over to work for Mattis, not to work for Trump, so they’re worried what happens after he leaves.”

As the Pentagon’s top NATO policy official, Goffus oversaw a sharp uptick in funding for U.S. military posture in Europe and a flurry of training exercises with European allies to deter Russian revanchism after Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Even while Trump rattled NATO allies by railing against their laggard defense spending and coddled Russian President Vladimir Putin, his administration has overseen a ramp up in U.S. defense and security commitments to Europe.

Update, Nov. 1, 2018:  This story has been updated to reflect the fact that a third top Defense Department official, Alan Patterson, also left in October.

Lara Seligman is Foreign Policy's Pentagon correspondent. @laraseligman

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy@RobbieGramer

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