508. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • C–130’s for the Congo


We recommend that we agree to return to the Congo temporarily three C–130 aircraft with US crews for use in ferrying Congolese army troops and matériel. If you concur, we would instruct our Ambassador to exercise the tightest possible control over these aircraft to ensure they are used only for the transport of men and matériel under safe conditions and not subject to interdiction by rebel-controlled aircraft. The Ambassador would also make clear to Mobutu that the United States is not prepared to make combat forces available to the Congo.2


On July 4, approximately 160 white Congolese mercenaries, largely French and Belgian, leading 1,000–2,000 Katangese troops of the Congolese Army, seized several towns in the northeast area of the Congo. These mercenaries, originally recruited by Mobutu, and currently paid by the Congolese Government, are now obviously in a state of mutiny. Apparently their actions were prompted either by a Tshombe plot to overthrow the Congolese Government or by the kidnapping [Page 743] of Tshombe and by attempts of the Congolese Government to extradite Tshombe from Algeria. It is not clear to what extent they are receiving support from forces outside the Congo, although we suspect they are backed by individual Belgians in financial and mining circles.

Although the present situation is extremely fluid, Mobutu considers it a serious threat to his regime. The mercenaries have a reputation of toughness, and the Congo Army of about 20,000 is reluctant to engage them. Mobutu believes that in order to defuse the situation he must very quickly show he is able to take a counteroffensive.

To prepare for such a counterattack, Mobutu has asked the US Government for three C–130 aircraft on an urgent basis to transport Congolese troops and matériel within the interior. His present aircraft capability is extremely limited. The eleven armed T–28’s we previously provided Mobutu are operational but the pilots are mercenaries and Mobutu seems unwilling to chance using them now. His transport fleet, consisting largely of C–47’s, lacks sufficient maintenance and flying personnel; the pilots include some Italian trained Congolese and some Belgian aircraft crews on loan. Past experience has shown that the existing transport fleet cannot provide the vehicle and personnel lift over long distances in the Congo necessary to meet this need.

Mobutu has requested African support from every African state through the OAU. He feels it is politically impossible at the present time to ask for Belgian military support although he has asked for and received assurances of Belgian political support. He views the US as historically the only source on which he can count.

Mobutu has also requested an immediate emergency session of the UN Security Council which is being held tonight.

The Soviet press has denounced the mutiny and the French and Belgian Governments have announced their complete support of the Mobutu Government. We know of no government taking sides with the mercenaries. If we should send C–130’s to the Congo, we expect little if any difficulty with the Soviets as they could not behave as if they supported Tshombe or European mercenaries. On the other hand if we let the situation deteriorate without helping Mobutu, we could expect the Soviets to try and take advantage of the situation in unhelpful ways.

Ambassador McBride believes a quick delivery could have a critical psychological effect in the Congo, both with the central government which needs bucking up and as a deterrent to the mutineers. He strongly recommends that we supply the aircraft.

Supplying the aircraft would have the following advantages:

—US support for an African Government against an uprising led by white mercenaries and supported by foreign right wing groups [Page 744] would strengthen the US position among Black African countries. Help for a Black African state would be particularly timely now against the background of the Middle East crisis.

—Quick symbolic action by the US could help prevent the situation from growing out of hand by bolstering Mobutu and deterring the mutineers.

—We helped the Congolese in 1964 by making available four C–130’s when they faced the threat from the left. Assisting them now when they face a threat from the right would be another demonstration of our even-handedness.

—US support would help to counter the Congolese racist feeling which is mounting rapidly against white mercenaries and which may grow to include all whites. It would enable us strongly to urge Mobutu to desist from anti-white propaganda, and propaganda against us, the Belgians, and others as “imperialists”.

—US support would reassure Mobutu that his pro-Western policy was correct and would enable him to keep from turning in extremis to Arab states, such as Algeria or the UAR, or other African states, who might be willing to intervene.

—US support could make it easier for us to deal with the Security Council situation where we might otherwise face a sweeping Congolese indictment of “Western imperialism” or of individual Western countries. Our assistance would give us leverage to persuade the Congolese to moderate their claims.

—The availability of the C–130’s in the Congo would facilitate large scale evacuation of Americans, should this become necessary.

Supplying the aircraft also involves certain risks:

—There is danger in moving military equipment before we know precisely whether there is a real need for it, how it would be used and the dangers to which it will be exposed.

—We may be confronted with a follow-on request for U.S. combat troops if Mobutu judges the ANC would not alone be able to defeat the mercenaries.

—Even though the aircraft would be supplied at the request of the Congo Government, our action could be viewed by some as unilateral US intervention.

—Furnishing military transport planes might encourage future requests for direct assistance from other countries in similar situations. (The distinguishing characteristic here, however, is that foreign white mercenaries are involved.)

—In helping Mobutu put down an insurrection that is sympathetic to Tshombe, we recognize that an early extradition and execution of [Page 745] Tshombe will provoke strong adverse reactions from his traditional supporters. If we comply with the request for C–130’s we would use the opportunity to urge Mobutu strongly not to execute Tshombe. We would make it clear that if the execution occurred, we would be obliged to withdraw the planes.

Action Already Taken

—We have established an inter-agency task force composed of State, DOD, JCS, CIA, and USIA representatives to deal with the Congo crisis.

—We have contacted the Belgians today to explore the possibility of joint action and to see if the GOB can increase the number of air force crews in the Congo.

—We have determined that the three C–130’s are available.

—We are talking to African Ambassadors to determine climate of opinion among African states.

—We are asking American Consul in Bukavu to ascertain the mercenaries’ motivations and intentions.

Secretary Rusk, Acting Secretary Nitze and DCI Helms concur in this recommendation.

Eugene V. Rostow
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Secret. Drafted by Rostow and cleared by Fredericks, Brown, Sisco, and Stoessel. Rusk approved the memorandum; see footnote 2, Document 507. A handwritten notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “Planes sent—7/8. Removed from WH pending 7/13. pw”
  2. The approval line is checked, indicating the recommendation was approved.