403. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

Before he left, Bob Komer asked me to bring you up to date on the deteriorating situation in the Congo. Tshombe has gained some ground since the UN sessions in December, but we’ve made no progress toward a cease-fire.

Now the rebel counter-offensive we’ve feared may have begun. Last week Congolese rebels bolstered by Ugandan regulars crossed into the northeastern Congo and took several towns. Shipments from Algeria and the UAR have swelled rebel arms caches, and rebel fighters are training with Arab mentors in East African safe havens.

The Ugandan Prime Minister, panicked by two alleged air strikes on Ugandan border towns, has asked for planes from Communist China and Algeria. We’ve rejected hysterical charges that we’re responsible and are plugging for negotiations which would seal off the border.

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So far, the Congolese army and mercenaries have contained the incursions, and Tshombe with our encouragement has offered to negotiate. To keep on a political track, we’re trying to build on his offer by floating the idea that pacifying the border with UN or African observers could be a first step toward the cease-fire which we badly need. Tshombe’s forces would be no match for a well-run rebel push supported from outside, and we don’t want to face that kind of escalation.

We may see another round of radical propaganda from the African foreign ministers’ meeting which meets this weekend. However, the moderates there are stronger than at any time since the rebellion began last summer. We’ve done a substantial amount of diplomatic spadework and hope they’ll produce some reasonable proposals for controlling hostilities.

You might want to ask Secretary Rusk about this. With Harriman no longer overseeing our Congo effort, we suffer from lack of persistent attention from State’s seventh floor.

Hal Saunders
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. XI, Memos & Miscellaneous, 1/65–9/65. Secret.