440. Memorandum for the 303 Committee1


  • Request for Approval for Continuation of CIA Covert Tactical Support for the Congolese Air Force

1. Summary

This memorandum contains a request for approval of the continuation of covert CIA participation in the Congolese tactical air program at the existing level.

2. Problem

The Congolese Government is faced with the formidable task of restoring political and economic stability to the rebel-ravaged eastern and northeastern sections of the Congo. Rebel bands and gangs of outlaws still move freely through much of the area, harassing lines of communication and attacking isolated villages. Relative security exists only in those towns garrisoned by government troops. The area involved is so extensive and the resources of the Central Government in dependable troops are so limited that the use of aircraft will for some time to come be essential for discouraging anti-government activity.

In an effort to crush the last organized rebel resistance in the eastern Congo, Central Government forces are engaged in a major campaign in the Fizi-Baraka area. Even assuming these forces will be successful in achieving their major objectives, we can expect persisting disorder there, as elsewhere in territory once under rebel control.

3. Factors Bearing on the Problem

a. Origin of the Requirement

On 13 December 1962, the 303 Committee approved a proposal to provide additional personnel and logistical support to the Congolese Air Force in order to give it a limited combat capability, on the condition that the State Department determined that such action was compatible with overall U.S. policy for the Congo. The proposal had its origin in the need to provide air support for Congolese National Army troops then operating in the eastern Congo against Katanga. Subsequent to the approval, it was determined that Congolese Air Force units covertly supported under this program should engage only in flights of a morale or reconnaissance nature. On 30 January 1964, this [Page 638] limited mission was modified with the approval of the Department of State, to one of active participation in combat, to meet the need of the Congolese Government for extensive air support against the rebels in Kwilu Province.

On 28 May 1964, the 303 Committee approved a marked increase in the number of planes to be made available to the Congolese Government still fighting the rebellion in Kwilu Province, and faced with new uprisings in Kivu. The Department of Defense and the Department of State requested CIA to provide the necessary personnel to operate and maintain the additional planes.

The program was again expanded with 303 Committee approval on 24 August 1964, when rebellion throughout the eastern half of the Congo threatened the existence of the Central Government. Subsequently, on 6 April 1965, a periodic report was forwarded to the 303 Committee advising it of a budgetary adjustment which brought the level of support for the program to an estimated [dollar amount not declassified] for FY 1965.

b. Pertinent U.S. Policy Considerations

It is U.S. policy to support the present Congolese Government in its efforts to defeat the rebels, who have in the past received external support from the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba and the radical African states. Recent events indicate, however, that African assistance to the rebels has greatly diminished. President Nyerere of Tanzania has privately expressed his disillusionment with the rebel leadership and stated his intention of halting Soviet, Communist Chinese and Cuban assistance to rebels in refuge on Tanzanian territory.

c. Operational Objectives

The major operational objective of the tactical air support program is to give the Congolese Air Force an adequate capability to support, through reconnaissance and combat action, the Congolese National Army in its efforts to destroy rebel resistance and restore order in the countryside.

d. Cover Considerations

To reduce to a minimum the visibility of the U.S. official presence in the Congo, efforts have been made to present this program as one sustained and directed by the Congolese Government. The pilots are ostensibly hired by that government. [less than 1 line not declassified] The combat aircraft are supplied through the Military Assistance Program. Support aircraft are overtly leased by the Congolese Government [2½ lines not declassified]. While these cover mechanisms have served to disguise, to some extent, U.S. official involvement, the necessary use of [less than 1 line not declassified] pilots and of American air officers has led to a general assumption in the Congo, reflected from time to time in the [Page 639] international press, that this is in fact a U.S. Government program. However, there has been little comment linking it with the U.S. Government in recent months.

e. Risks Involved

Despite the decreased press interest, the widespread assumption that the United States is responsible for the program means that it continues to be potentially embarrassing for the U.S. Government.

f. Alternative Courses of Action

In September 1965, U.S. Government proposals made to representatives of the Belgian Government in Brussels, that the Belgians assume responsibility for the tactical air support program, were rejected for political and financial reasons, despite a U.S. offer to transfer the T–28’s now in the Congo to Belgian control and to maintain the support facility for several months. Nevertheless, these proposals were raised again during the October 1965 talks in Washington but to date with no more favorable response from the Belgians than previously.

g. Funding

[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

h. Support Required by Other Agencies

The Department of Defense has provided strong support since the outset of the program. It has supplied all combat aircraft through the Military Assistance Program.

4. Coordination

This program has been fully coordinated with the Departments of State and Defense. The U.S. Ambassador to the Congo favors its continuation.

5. Recommendations

It is recommended that approval be granted to continue CIA covert support to the Congolese tactical air program at its present estimated level of [dollar amount not declassified] per annum. This approval is to be subject to review (1) if talks with the Belgians result in Belgian agreement to assume all or part of this support, and/or (2) if actions by the new Government of the Congo make it inappropriate to continue such support.2

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 81–00966R, Box 1, Folder 12, Congo, 1965. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. A handwritten notation on the memorandum reads: “Approved at the 28 Oct 65 meeting of the 303 Committee. Quarterly reviews asked and a consistent effort to cut back wherever possible.” An extract from the 303 Committee minutes in CIA files indicates that before the [dollar amount not declassified] was approved, McGeorge Bundy hit hard at “the Santa Claus motif” and said he felt that they should be getting something in return for this largesse and apparently were not doing so at that time. He recommended a strong statement from the Department of State to the Embassy in Leopoldville urging “a considerable quid pro quo” from Kasavubu. (Ibid., Job 82–00450R, 40 Committee, Congo (K) 1965)