351. Telegram From the Embassy in Belgium to the Department of State1

1057. Embtel 1048 and Brubeck–MacArthur telcons.2 Saw Spaak and put to him as requested by Palmer and Brubeck fol courses of action: (1) VDW column assault on Stan Nov 23 without DR; (2) DR drop Nov 24 coupled with VDW arrival Stan sometime same day; (3) DR Nov 24 with VDW arrival Stan suspended until Nov 25.

Spaak said he had given much thought to these alternatives. There was no easy, simple course of action and each of above alternatives held risks and serious political inconveniences. However, time had come when lives of 1000 foreign women, children and men were in mortal danger and we must face up to our responsibility and make a decision based on A) elements of problem as Belgian and US knew them and B) which alternative offered best chance of survival for hostages.

1. Re alternative one above, if DR not implemented, VDW forces will have to be rested at least briefly tonight for assault tomorrow and may not arrive until perhaps midday. This means that there would be entire morning for irresponsible elements to massacre hostages before arrival of column. Furthermore, if VDW arrives without DR it will enter Stan from east and have to make its way all across city against resistance to west of city where hostages are believed concentrated, obviously increasing risks for hostages. However if DR implemented resistance expected to be very slight.

2. Re alternative two (arrival of VDW and DR at Stan Nov 24), if DR is implemented, VDW column will be given minimum rest and should be in position outside Stan reasonably early tomorrow morning (Nov 24). If DR para drop occurs (west of city where hostages believed to be), with VDW outside city, estimate is there will be little if any real resistance and maximum VDWDR resources will be available to rescue hostages soonest.

3. Alternative three (DR on Nov 24 with VDW arrival Nov 25). In view of present rate of progress of VDW column, it will arrive in Stan sometime tomorrow whether or not DR implemented. Belgians have no reason to believe that VDW column can be held up 24 hours and are [Page 510] certain that efforts to be so would be bitterly and very probably successfully resisted by GOC. Furthermore, in terms of safety of hostages there will obviously be less resources if DR is implemented alone than if VDW column is there to assist.

Spaak said that from the beginning of planning of DR basic criteria of whether we would implement it was whether it would give maximum survival possibility for foreign hostages. He firmly believes this must be the criteria. His conclusion is that hostages will have maximum chance of survival if alternative two (DR and VDW arrival Nov 24) is implemented. Furthermore, he understands that both Belgian and American Embs and military in Congo share this view. He recognizes that coincidental arrival of VDW and DR in Stan Nov 24 will be exploited by those who will try to portray DR as assistance to ANC rather than humanitarian effort but feels that this is something we will have to accept since hanging in the balance are lives of 1000 men, women and children. He said it would be “grotesque” if we should take the risk of holding up on DR 24 hours with resultant massacre of hostages. While DR cannot guarantee safety of hostages, he believes its implementation gives them maximum chance.

Spaak said I should inform US Govt that Belgian Govt view (concurred in by PriMin and DefMin) is that DR should be implemented as planned Nov 24. The decision was a very difficult one, charged with heavy responsibility but Belgians felt it had to be faced up to. He asked that I inform Washington of Belgian decision, making clear that final decision was joint decision with each of us assuming equal responsibility for it. (I assured him that from the very beginning we had understood it was joint decision with equal responsibility.) Spaak said if we concur in implementation of DR we send “Punch” at once and inform him soonest through Emb Brussels so that he can inform PriMin, DefMin and so that Belgian military can also confirm “Punch” through their military channels to Belgian military in Congo. (Brubeck in telecon at 7:40 P.M. tonight Brussels time informed me “Punch” has been sent and Spaak immediately informed through Davignon.)

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Top Secret; Flash; Exdis. Received at 3:14 p.m. and repeated to Leopoldville. Passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA.
  2. Telegram 1048 from Brussels, November 23. (Ibid.) No record of the telcons has been found.