5. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Kagnew Station—Ethiopia (U)

(C) The growing threat to US personnel at Kagnew Station, the US Naval Communications Unit (NAVCOMMU) in Asmara, Ethiopia, has become a matter of serious and increasing concern in the Department of Defense. All US dependents were withdrawn early in 1976 after two US personnel were killed by a land mine and five others were kidnapped by the insurgents, and for over a year US personnel there have lived under the severe curfew imposed by the government in Asmara.2

(S) The Eritrean insurgency has intensified in recent months, with some attacks occurring close to Kagnew. Public statements by the Government of Sudan promising support for the Eritrean liberation movement have added to the tension, as has the sharply negative reaction of the Ethiopian government to our termination of materiel military assistance and our criticism of violations by the Ethiopians of basic human rights.3 The Department of Defense believes that the situation [Page 10] in Asmara has become unpredictable and, therefore, that the security of our military and contract personnel there can no longer be assured.

(S) In December 1976 the JCS recommended closure of NAVCOMMU, Asmara subject to establishment of a MYSTIC STAR (Presidential communications support) facility at Tehran, Iran, or another suitable location. This recommendation was made to Secretary Kissinger, who agreed in principle, but the decision on where to relocate the facility was never made.4

(S) The JCS now recommend that the requirement to establish an alternate, fixed MYSTIC STAR site prior to the closure of NAVCOMMU, Asmara be rescinded for the following reasons:

a. The sole remaining requirement for NAVCOMMU, Asmara, is MYSTIC STAR mission support.

b. Political instability in Ethiopia has increased to the extent that continued operation of NAVCOMMU, Asmara solely in support of MYSTIC STAR requirements is no longer warranted.

c. The MYSTIC STAR functions now provided by the Asmara site can be assumed by other DoD communications facilities to provide interim, although degraded, support and coverage.

d. Diplomatic negotiations with Iran for a permanent alternative MYSTIC STAR site as a precondition to closure of NAVCOMMU, Asmara could cause further unwarranted delay.

(S) I am fully in accord with the recommendations I have received from the JCS and propose to close NAVCOMMU, Asmara as soon as the Defense Department is relieved of the requirement imposed on it at an earlier date by the White House communications staff.

(U) I shall welcome receipt of your views.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 1, Chron File: 3/77. Secret.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–6, Documents on Africa, 1973–1976, Document 147.
  3. In congressional testimony on February 24, Secretary Vance announced that military assistance to several countries, including Ethiopia, would be reduced because of human rights violations. See the Department of State Bulletin, March 14, 1977, pp. 236–241.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–6, Documents on Africa, 1973–1976, Document 170.