280. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Congo1

922. Re: Leo 1394 and 1408.2 Dept believes use of South African mercenary pilots by Tshombe will become such serious political liability both for GOC and USG and will so endanger US personnel Stanleyville that we must take very firm line with him against their further use. We must make every effort to persuade him abandon project, making clear that we cannot agree to be associated in any way with SA airforce operation.3 We consider it essential that GOB make equally strong parallel approach.

Embassy Leo: You should see Tshombe soonest after his return. You are authorized to proceed along following lines in attempting achieve objective of getting GOC abandon South African pilot project:

1. You should make clear to Tshombe grave USG concern over venture which can redound only to US and GOC disadvantage and play into hands of extremists who seek to discredit him personally and challenge sovereignty GOC. At time when Tshombe should be seeking strengthen position in OAU, he would be creating opposite impression by introducing additional South Africans, particularly in conspicuous role of killing Africans from air. He should appreciate that mercenaries are probably most vulnerable aspect of his relations with other Africans. We and other qualified observers are convinced that militarily these planes are not necessary for Congolese military success. We convinced planes we have furnished are sufficient to do job. Thus GOC by employing South African pilots would not be adding military strength commensurate with serious political disadvantages.

We recognize that Tshombe may have serious doubts about US intentions in continuing to make available to him air support for ANC operations and thus has undertaken South African pilot project to give himself an independent capability. We suggest you sound him out on [Page 407] this and, if appropriate, you may reaffirm that US tactical aircraft now on loan to GOC will continue to be fully available for action against appropriate military targets for duration of military need. In this connection, you should make clear our understanding that aircraft will be used only against essential military targets and within spirit of Geneva Conventions, thus avoiding towns and cities. We hope Tshombe would readily accept this line of reasoning, not only for humanitarian reasons but also in interest economic future of country and eventual national reconciliation.

If helpful, you can specifically reiterate that C–130 lift will be phased out only as adequate C–47 lift becomes available and that, with appropriate mutual understanding re South African pilot project, B–26s can be retained beyond present Oct. 17 expiration date. You can also assure him of continued availability of T–28s on basis of similar understanding. FYI In offering such oral assurances you should of course stay strictly within limits of carefully formulated terms of foregoing. End FYI.

2. If this argumentation and these assurances fail to elicit assurances from Tshombe that he will abandon project, you should attempt persuade him at least to defer movement from Leo pending joint resolution of this issue.

3. At any point in this sequence and in order to dissuade him from project or persuade him defer, you are authorized use in ascending order any or all following additional points:

a. US cannot agree airlift additional T–6’s from Italy. (If you are sure that we retain title and withdrawal rights over two operational T–6’s referred reftel, you may also say we would have to insist on their withdrawal.)

b. Since we cannot agree to be associated in any way with South African airforce operations, we would be forced withdraw US supplied aircraft from Lisala-Coq vicinity so long as T–6’s active in that area.

c. In absence of an appropriate mutual understanding re South African pilot project, we would find it impossible extend B–26 agreement covering their loan to GOC beyond Oct. 17 expiry date and aircraft must consequently be grounded beforehand to prepare them mechanically for return to US.

d. You have full authorization of USG to take above steps. In addition, after receiving your report, USG may take such serious view of situation that it may feel obliged to take further steps to dissociate self from this project. At minimum, therefore, Tshombe should hold South Africans at Leo pending further reaction from USG.

4. We leave to your discretion how you use foregoing authorities, i.e. in one session with Tshombe or spread over several. Moreover, you [Page 408] are authorized take such consequential actions as may be required in connection any moves Tshombe may make, e.g. withdrawing US supplied planes from Lisala area or preparing B–26’s for return US if despite your efforts he deploys planes with SA pilots to operational areas. We would of course wish make every effort prevent any of these moves from becoming public at this time.

5. Given present deployment date Oct. 14, it most important we know as soon as possible where we stand with Tshombe on this issue so that we can decide what if any further steps we should take to protect US interests. You may therefore have to play your cards quickly. Objective must therefore be either to get satisfactory assurances from Tshombe or convey advance warning of failure to Dept in time permit us take any subsequent actions before movement actually takes place.4

Emb Brussels: You should inform GOB of foregoing soonest—today if possible but otherwise Oct. 12 in Fredericks talks. You should make every effort secure Belgian agreement to make urgent parallel approach to GOB in Leo not later than Oct. 13. Hope also GOB will enlist cooperation Bouzin (who we understand in Brussels) and Van der Walle in trying get GOC to understand importance dropping project or as minimum blocking operational deployment.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 6–5 THE CONGO. Secret; Flash; Limdis. Drafted by Palmer; cleared by Lang, Brubeck, Fredericks, Tyler, and Fields in CIA; and approved by Ball. Also sent to Brussels and repeated to Rome, CINCSTRIKE for Ramsey, and Pretoria.
  2. Both dated October 7. (Ibid.)
  3. On October 11, McCone raised with Rusk the question of the prospective Department cable warning Tshombe not to use South African mercenary pilots or face the consequence of U.S. withdrawal of pilots and other forms of support. McCone urged the Secretary to moderate such threats in the final draft of the cable. He pointed out that the United States had provided only 20 pilots [text not declassified]. (Memorandum for the record; Central Intelligence Agency Files, DCI/McCone Files, Job 80B01285A, DCI McCone Memos for the Record, 08 Jul–10 Sep 64)
  4. In telegram 1456 from Leopoldville, October 12, Godley stated that he would put the matter firmly to Tshombe after he returned to Leopoldville. The Ambassador pointed out, however, that he was unlikely to get a straight answer, although the Prime Minister would probably agree in principle. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 6–5 THE CONGO)