96. Editorial Note

In September 1961, fighting between United Nations (UN) and Katangan forces entered a new phase. At the end of August, UN forces seized key points in Elizabethville and arrested a number of Belgian officers and mercenaries. On September 13, a new UN offensive encountered heavy resistance from European-led Katangan forces. President Kennedy and Secretary of State Rusk sent a message to Ambassador Gullion, instructing him to urge UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, who was in Leopoldville, to end the fighting and begin negotiations. In the wake of Hammarskjold’s death on September 17 in a plane crash on his way to meet with Tshombe, the United States agreed to a UN request to position four U.S. transport aircraft at Leopoldville for use in an internal airlift of UN troops within the Congo.

On September 19, President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 97, authorizing the dispatch of U.S. fighter aircraft with the necessary logistical support to the Congo, on a contingency basis. Kennedy specifically directed that their mission would be to support and defend U.S. and UN transports or other UN forces that might come under air attack, and that their use in offensive activities against Katangan forces was not authorized. This authorization would become effective only if no fighter aircraft of other nations were made available to the United Nations. The United Nations obtained fighters elsewhere, however, and the question of using U.S. fighters did not arise again for over a year. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, volume XX, Congo Crisis, Documents 102128, pages 201–248 for detailed coverage of the September 1961 Katanga crisis.