Rodriguez took over AFRICOM as US policy makers began taking increased interest in the continent, as al-Qaida-related groups spread from Yemen and the Middle East into much of northern Africa. The Pentagon has conducted an increasing number of military operations on the continent in recent years in Libya, Somalia and Kenya, while using Air Force and special operations assets to support French and African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic. AFRICOM is also hosting the US Army’s first regionally aligned brigade, which is a test case for how the Army will equip and train its soldiers in the future. A 1976 graduate of West Point, Rodriguez came to AFRICOM following a stint commanding the US Army’s Forces Command. Rodriguez spent much of the previous four years in Afghanistan, commanding Joint Task Force-82 in 2007-08, and as operational commander of NATO forces as head of the International Security Assistance Force-Joint Command from 2009-11. Rodriguez also served in combat in Panama, and in Iraq in 1991 and then again in 2003 and 2005.