181. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Twining) to Secretary of Defense Gates 0



  • The Kitona–Banana and Kamina Bases in the Congo
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider it essential that the airfield at Kitona, and the port of Banana, and the Kamina base complex, Republic of Congo, remain in friendly hands, and further, that these facilities be denied to the military forces of the Soviet Bloc.
Mr. Lumumba’s repudiation of the unratified Treaty of friendship, assistance and technical cooperation between the Republic of Congo and Belgium exposes Congolese bases to occupancy by outside forces. The collapse of the Belgian military position and withdrawal of Belgian technicians create the need for foreign technical assistance to operate the base facilities. Even with the bases under their national control, the possibility exists that the Congolese would request Soviet assistance or request assistance from Communists of the Western World.
The continued availability of the Kitona–Banana complex to the Free World is strategically important as a base for maritime patrol aircraft in support of ASW in the South Atlantic, for the control of ocean shipping, and as a major point of access to the Congo and Africa south of the Sahara. The flow of shipping around South Africa would be increased significantly should the use of the Suez Canal be denied to the West. Protection of this shipping is a major task for Allied Forces and vital to any war effort. The dearth of suitable harbors on the West African coast further increases the importance of these port facilities.
The covert activities of just a few Communists infiltrating such essential facilities in Banana as river piloting, river dredging, stevedoring or harbor control could result in the denial of these facilities to the West and Soviet domination of the economic lifeline to the Congo and Central Africa. A similar encroachment into the communications or control functions of the Kitona airfield could provide the Soviets with [Page 426] a readily available airfield to facilitate rapid military expansion into West Africa. Only a few Communist civilian technicians would be required to develop a ship repair facility in Banana, which could suddenly become a base capable of supporting Soviet-Bloc submarines. These strategically significant military gains would then have been accomplished with minimum and imperceptible Soviet action.
With Soviet occupancy or control of the facilities in the Kitona–Banana complex, either overt or covert, their military forces could then threaten the Free World’s essential South Atlantic sea routes. In order to offset this capability it would be necessary to redeploy our already over-committed naval forces or establish a requirement for increased force levels to meet this new threat.
The Kamina base complex is strategically located in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, where the potential for a breakdown in law and order in both established and emerging nations is high. Since future developments in sub-Saharan Africa will probably require the stabilizing presence of U.S., Western or U.N. military forces, the availability to the Free World or the U.N. of the Kamina base, as a staging area for military operations in times of crises, would be of significant advantage. In addition, the importance of maintaining overflight privileges in sub-Saharan Africa for the movement of Western combat forces to potential trouble spots in the Middle East and Asia is increasing in view of the present negative attitude of many of the nations in the Middle East and North Africa on overflight privileges by Western combat forces. Viewed in this light, Western overflight privileges in the Congo and the Kamina base air facilities take on increasing importance. Of even greater significance, however, is the importance of denying the Kamina base to the Soviet Bloc. In peacetime, Soviet Bloc control of Kamina would provide a focal point for Communist subversive operations and a ready source of military assistance in support of indirect aggressions to facilitate Communist coups in neighboring African nations, many of which are extremely susceptible. In wartime, Soviet Bloc control of the Kamina base would seriously jeopardize Free World air and sea communications in this area of the world and would require the employment of military forces to eliminate this Soviet Bloc base.
In view of the above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff request that you reaffirm to the Secretary of State the Defense Department’s concern that the Kitona–Banana and Kamina bases remain under friendly control and that all possible steps be taken to deny these facilities to the Soviet Bloc. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, therefore, recommend that action be initiated to accomplish the following:
Ensure that the U.N. assumes timely control of the area to preclude unilateral control by unfriendly forces;
That the U.S. and/or other friendly governments initiate military assistance programs to provide for the continuing adequate maintenance and operation of these facilities;
A program be initiated to provide Congolese personnel with Western training in base operations and maintenance;
That covert action, including the introduction of agents, be taken in all of the above to ensure pro-Western orientation.1
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
N. F. Twining 2
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770G.56300/8–2960. Secret. Enclosed with a letter of August 29 from Douglas to Herter. The Department of State was informed of the memorandum by telephone on August 18 in a call from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. The caller indicated that the Department of Defense wished to repudiate a statement in telegram 395 from Brussels to the effect that U.S. military authorities did not consider the Belgian bases of strategic value to the West. (Memorandum of telephone conversation by Joseph Sweeney of the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs, August 18; ibid., 770G.56355/8–1860) Telegram 395 from Brussels, August 4, is ibid., 770G.00/4–60; the statement was based on Document 160.
  2. Dillon replied in a letter of September 16 to Douglas that the Department of State recognized the necessity of keeping the bases out of Soviet hands and endorsed the first JCS recommendation, but that it considered that the other recommendations would not be practical. He commented that the JCS memorandum marked the first time, to his knowledge, that the Department of Defense had indicated that the United States had “any specific strategic interests in Africa south of the Sahara.” (Department of State, Central Files, 770G.56300/8–2960) Irwin replied in a letter of September 23 to Dillon that the other three recommendations were considered essential components of a long-term policy to assure that the bases remained in friendly hands. (Ibid., 770G.563/ 9–2360)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.