287. Telegram From the Embassy in the Congo to the Department of State1

1497. I will, of course, endeavor see Tshombe first thing this morning carry out instructions contained Department telegram 958.2 Sending appropriate [1 line not declassified] insure grounding T–28’s and B–26’s. Also repeating information contained Department instructions [Page 416] Bukavu and Elisabethville re grounding of planes, prohibition on overflights rebel-held territory by US planes, and am reinforcing standing orders that every precaution will be taken insure no additional US official personnel fall into rebel hands.

Am deeply concerned, however, by starkness of message I have to deliver and fear reactions of Tshombe, Nendaka and Kasavubu. In fact Tshombe may well know of our decision even before I can see him because of our action early this morning in standing down crucial air strikes scheduled in Burma and Boende areas. Furthermore, while I will obviously not tell Tshombe that US planes no longer flying over rebel held area, Congolese will probably become aware of this during course of day when ANC request for reconnaissance around Bukavu and Uvira, point still under grave rebel threat, is refused. Department will, of course, realize that grounding of planes will mean complete stoppage of all military offensive operations against rebels, as all current operations depend on air support by US furnished planes.

Tshombe is going to ask right away, or at least ask himself, what USG has in mind, i.e., does this mean US proposing give in to rebel blackmail re hostages and thus getting ready pull out military rug from under him, at least as far as crucial support from US-furnished planes is concerned. Or, he will want to know, does this mean USG has something more positive in mind. I can see reasons why we would not necessarily want to take Tshombe into our confidence at this stage if latter is case. However, I believe it very much in our own interest give Tshombe some additional thoughts which would lead him conclude we not abandoning him and not panicking. This would, I believe, keep him from having to consider possibility, which Department has recognized, of reversing his decision re non use South African mercenary pilots. Therefore, I request authorization make clear to Tshombe that limitation on use of planes is temporary measure and does not mean USG considering withdrawal of its aerial support. In other words, I would like be able assure him that phrase “reviewing with him our aerial support” does not mean give in to rebel blackmail.

Re Belgian reaction, I should think Spaak would also have same concerns as Congolese about what we have in mind. Would it not be better be somewhat more frank with him? We will also need full support top Belgian military advisors in ANC. Have, therefore, asked Williams inform VDW and Marliere of grounding of planes as we will need their support keep impulsive Mobutu in line. Am asking them say nothing to Congolese until I have had opportunity approach Tshombe. Foregoing drafted at 0500 local. At 0700 Marliere was scheduled depart for Coquilhatville in B–26 and I have accordingly told Williams send Marliere at once. Thus in matter of hour our decision will be known here to Belgians.

[Page 417]

We must face fact that 72-hour stand down, even though not immediately known to rebels, could result in some substantial rebel victories. For example, last time reconnaissance around Bukavu stopped, rebels quickly took occasion launch major attack on that city which nearly fell. Unless Belgians undertake reconnaissance, US could be in position of being blamed for fall of key city which fell under fear rebel threats.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Top Secret; Flash; Limdis. Passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA.
  2. Document 286.
  3. Telegram 968 to Leopoldville, October 16, instructed the Embassy to assure Tshombe that the stand down was temporary and did not indicate a decision to withdraw U.S. air support. This was to provide a breathing space so both governments could consider how to minimize the risk of reprisals. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO) In telegram 1524 from Leopoldville, October 18, Godley pointed out that ANC attacks on Boende and Kindu were being held up indefinitely pending release of air support, and that Belgian pressure would build up if ANC troops suffered counterattacks, since the VDW plans were based on air support. (Ibid.)