138. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Ugandan Crisis Management

David Aaron chaired this morning a working level meeting of the Special Coordination Committee to consider the situation.2 I enclose his full report on the meeting.

In essence,

—on the diplomatic front, we can act through intermediaries (Egyptians, Saudis, perhaps the Germans) to try to defuse the situation;3

—on the humanitarian side, we can charter an aircraft to evacuate those Americans who wish to leave, provided Amin is willing to let them go;

—on the public front, we should say very little;

—on the military end, we can exert some pressure by naval presence, but effective application of force would take 2½ days to develop.

[Page 366]

Finally, it should be noted that if a genuine crisis develops and action has to be taken, Kenya and Tanzania would be willing to assist us, and Tanzania has already even indicated an interest in toppling Amin personally.


Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron) to President Carter 4

At Dr. Brzezinski’s request, I chaired a working level meeting of the SCC to consider the situation in Uganda and possible U.S. responses.

The Situation

There are no new developments that we are aware of in Uganda except the letter which President Amin has directed to you, Secretary General Waldheim and a number of others.5 That letter essentially responds to charges of human rights violations in Uganda and makes some counter charges concerning the U.S. It makes no threats against the U.S. nor does it mention his order to have all Americans assemble in Kampala on Monday. It does contain the ominous note that the United States was involved in a recent plan to invade Uganda, “based on information from 16 people involved in the plot” who were arrested yesterday.6

[1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

Diplomatic Actions

The State Department is in the process of sending out cables to African leaders who might be influential with Amin. These messages express our deep concern over what might happen to our people. The [Page 367] State Department estimates that this diplomatic activity is not likely to show clear results for 36–48 hours. It may have to be supplemented by further diplomatic activity.

It was the consensus of the Working Group that our strategy at this stage should be to put heavy pressure insofar as we can on Uganda but not to do so publicly. It is the State Department’s judgment that public pressure will only provoke greater counter-action by Amin and may well make him less flexible. If we can keep Amin faithful to what he has said thus far—that he is merely calling people in to Kampala to choose whether they wish to go or stay—we might get through this without too much trouble.

You will not, however, be able to avoid public comment. You are currently meeting with Secretary General Waldheim and some statement on this subject will be necessary. We will also be pressed for our answer to Amin’s letter. On both, we would propose to say the minimum. (Press guidance on both is attached.)7

Military Actions

Everyone agrees that military actions should only be undertaken in extremis and that we should avoid preparations now which would become public and create a crisis atmosphere.

However, the aircraft carrier Enterprise and some other supporting cruisers are in the general area. They have been directed to proceed to a position 100 miles off the coast of Kenya. At the current rate of advance (20 knots), the Enterprise will arrive at noon tomorrow. Secretary Duncan is concerned that if the fact of the Enterprise’s movements become public knowledge, this could be seized by Amin as a pretext for further action. You should be aware that the Enterprise is being shadowed by Soviet ships and planes, and the Soviets could well inform Amin.

Everyone believes it is only prudent to move the Enterprise into the area although it would have no value in helping us evacuate Americans. It is capable only of offensive operations. It is probably desirable therefore to slow the carrier down or alter course slightly so that its mission is not so evident in the next 24 hours.

Other Actions

It was agreed that it might be desirable to offer to send an airplane to Entebbe to take out those Americans who wish to leave. This would be consistent with Amin’s offer. The State Department is arranging to be able to put a charter—probably foreign flag aircraft—into Entebbe [Page 368] by late Sunday. Your approval of this step would be required before any action.8

It may prove necessary or desirable to send someone to speak on our behalf with Amin and observe his meeting with the Americans on Monday. One suggestion is that we ask a foreigner such as the Egyptian Foreign Minister or a Saudi to do this for us. It may be necessary given Amin’s psychology, to send an American. The State Department will provide us with a list of possible “emissaries” this afternoon.9

It was also suggested that we might wish to hold a Security Council meeting. It was generally agreed that this should come only if we switch to the strategy of applying public pressure. The threat of holding such a meeting may prove useful to the Africans in encouraging them to work with Amin.10

Military options are not attractive for reasons that are fairly obvious. To move in force we would employ elements of the 82d Airborne which would take 2½ days for the lead elements to arrive, Major readiness steps could not be taken without public notice although there are some smaller steps that could be undertaken with minimum risks if you should so order.

To summarize, we are

— refraining from public comment insofar as possible

— preparing to send a foreign flag aircraft to pick up the Americans if necessary

— developing a list of possible emissaries

— moving the Enterprise into position

— developing our military planning so that we can act in extremis

— Putting on diplomatic pressure11

If you agree with these steps, the only further decision you need to take at this point is whether to slow down the Enterprise.

Yes, Slow it down

No, keep it on course for now12

By late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning, you will wish to decide whether to offer an airplane to pick up the Americans and whether to offer to arrange to send an emissary.13

We do not have a realistic military option of moving in force before Monday. After we see what happens then, we will reassess the situation.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Institutional Files, Box 85, SCC 006 Uganda Crisis Developments 2/26/77. Secret.
  2. On February 25, Amin forbade U.S. citizens living in Uganda to leave the country and ordered them to meet with him on Monday, February 28. (“Amin Orders U.S. Residents To Meet Him,” Washington Post, February 26, 1977, p. A1)
  3. Here Carter added “also UN.”
  4. Secret; Contains Codeword. Sent for action.
  5. In telegram 3533 from Borin, February 25, the Embassy transmitted the text of Amin’s letter to Carter, in which Amin rebuffed Carter’s criticism of human rights in Uganda, provided his own list of American human rights violations, and claimed U.S. involvement in a plan to invade Uganda. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770066–1233) The New York Times published the transcript of Amin’s February 25 message (New York Times, February 26, 1977, p.6)
  6. On February 24, the New York Times reported that Amin had acknowledged to British reporters that dissident soldiers had attempted to mutiny on February 19 and 22. Ugandan refugees arriving in Dar es Salaam reported widespread killings of Christian tribesmen. (Michael T. Kaufman, “Amin Acknowledges Mutiny in His Army,” New York Times, February 24, 1977, p. 7)
  7. Attached but not printed.
  8. Underneath this paragraph, Carter wrote “With Amin’s prior public agreement.”
  9. In the right margin, Carter wrote “ok.”
  10. In the right margin, Carter wrote “no.”
  11. Carter placed a checkmark at the end of each summation.
  12. Carter checked this option.
  13. At the end of this paragraph, Carter wrote “Call me.”