408. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Use of Napalm in the Congo (S)

1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have noted a recent telegram from the Secretary of State to Embassy Leopoldville, State 2023, dated 15 February 1965,2 which expressed grave concern regarding the use of napalm in the Congo. They have noted in particular that the American Ambassador to Leopoldville has been directed to inform Premier Tshombe that it is not in the best interests of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (GDRC) to employ napalm and that its use would require the withdrawal of US operational planes.

2. CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA has informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he views with concern the apprehensions held in certain [Page 592] circles concerning the possible use of napalm in the Congo. He has pointed out that these apprehensions appear to stem from undue sensitivity over the effect of this weapon, and that, if these apprehensions and opposition to usage continue, we risk, through self-imposed limitations, the denial to tactical air forces of one of their most effective weapons.

3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with the views of CINCSTRIKE/USCINCMEAFSA and consider that restrictions on the use of conventional air support weapons are militarily unwise and the use of napalm should be based upon military considerations. They believe that sovereign governments should be permitted to utilize the best conventional weapons available to them in their defense. In this regard, napalm is considered to be conventional ordnance which produces highly effective results with greater efficiency in effort against appropriate military targets. The use of napalm could provide the GDRC with an element of superiority which would unquestionably be most useful in combatting the present externally supported rebel insurgency in the Congo.

4. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:

a. The present policy restricting the use of napalm by the GDRC be rescinded.3

b. A memorandum, subsequently the same as that in the Appendix hereto, be forwarded to the Secretary of State.4

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Earle G. Wheeler5
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 218, JCS Files, 9111 (18 Feb. 65). Secret.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO)
  3. A memorandum from Vance to Wheeler attached to the original states that JCSM–185–65 was discussed informally with Harriman, who indicated that the Department of State would not concur at that time in the introduction of napalm in the Congo because the psychological reaction of the African states would favor the rebels and the radical states would harden their support of the rebels. The Department’s position did not rule out future reconsideration of the use of napalm, if there was a specific and highly important military need.
  4. Not attached.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates General Wheeler signed the original.