561. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • Congo Situation Report (3:00 PM)2

1. The mercenaries (around 120) and the Katangans (about 2,000 with families) are still sitting in what amounts to internment camps across the border in Rwanda. Our three C–130’s (2 still on Ascension, 1 in the Congo) are waiting to help in an international evacuation provided (a) the plan is workable and (b) there are reasonable security guarantees for our aircraft.

2. The Red Cross has other promises for aircraft on the same conditions. The Canadians have a C–130 also on Ascension. The British have pledged an Argosy transport (about C–130 size) which is still in the U.K. There’s a Belgian DC–6 waiting at the scene. And the French have a DC–3 ready to move in.

3. Consequently, the Red Cross could conceivably begin in 48 hours or so to fly out the Katangans. Mobutu has told us he approves this part of the evacuation, and claims the Zambians are ready to take them. But the Zambians say they can’t move without “express request” from the Congo to take the Katangans. Zambia thinks that request will come out of an OAU Commission meeting tomorrow in Kinshasa. Flying the 2,000 Katangans to Zambia would involve our C–130s and probably all the other air craft except France’s DC–3, which the French [Page 813] have earmarked for white (French) mercenaries. The operation ferrying the Katangans would take several days.

4. The tougher problem is evacuating the white mercenaries who would then be left in Rwanda. It’s anybody’s guess how soon they’ll get out to Malta.

5. A week ago Mobutu was in the flush of victory (a first for the Congolese army) and calling for “extradition” of the whites. He has since fallen back to a face-saving formula which was adopted over the weekend by the OAU Commission on Mercenaries.3 But the conditions of this formula are still exacting and could mean delay in completing the evacuation. To let the whites go, Mobutu is requiring:

—some “compensation” for damages from the parent countries (read Belgium and France)

—written assurances from the mercenaries themselves and their parent countries that they’ll never enter the Congo again

—an ad hoc OAU tribunal to screen and question the mercenaries before they leave Rwanda, trying to find out who planned their operation, who financed them, etc.

6. McBride thinks these conditions make it “obvious” that the mercenary problem will drag on “for weeks at best”—even if we get the Katangans out to Zambia this week. He reports that Mobutu sees these conditions as minimum punishment for the mercenaries, and will be in no mood for any short cut.

7. State is a little more hopeful that a quick and sensible response from the Belgians and French might satisfy Mobutu and thus put the whites on the planes. They point out:

—The Belgians have already offered to help in Red Cross relief for Bukavu and we think the French can be persuaded to do likewise. Mobutu just might accept this token compensation as sufficient.

—The Belgians have a suitable anti-mercenary law already in Parliament, and State thinks the French could meet Mobutu’s demands for assurances with some new passport regulations restricting French nationals who were involved.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. XIV, Memos & Miscellaneous, 8/67–10/68. Secret.
  2. A handwritten notation in the margin of the original reads: “as requested yesterday.”
  3. A special session of the OAU Commission on Mercenaries meeting in Kinshasa November 11–13 decided to place the mercenaries in Rwanda under the “jurisdiction” of the OAU and send a delegation to Kigali to interrogate them. It also decreed that the governments of which the mercenaries were nationals must compensate the Congo and give guarantees that the mercenaries, once repatriated, would never return to Africa.