73. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1

1. Invasion of Zaire:—We are still unable to determine with certainty the intentions of the forces that entered Zaire from Angola the day before yesterday.2 The invaders hold a number of towns in the Shaba (Katangan) region along the Angolan border in a triangle approximately 100 miles long and 40 miles deep. They also apparently hold 7 American missionaries. At this point we tend to the view that this is a limited incursion in retaliation for alleged Zairian support of Angolan insurgents. It is possible, however, that Angola President Neto wants to promote secession in the Shaba which could well lead to Zairian President Mobutu’s overthrow. Zaire’s military forces are of poor quality and most of them are located far from the threatened area. In addition, a severe fuel shortage, particularly in the Shaba, has put a halt to any sustained military reaction by the Zairians.3

Mobutu is currently trying some quiet diplomacy with the Soviets, Cubans and selected African countries (such as Nigeria and Tanzania), rather than engaging at this stage in a public confrontation with Moscow and Havana. He has also transmitted an oral request to you for military aid which would probably involve our helping to supply munitions and parachutes as well as spare parts for his C–130s, and overhaul of his jet trainers.4

We are in the process of trying to identify Zaire’s priority military needs and I will of course consult you in advance of any proposal to increase our supply of military equipment to Zaire as a result of this invasion. We still have $10 million in unspent but obligated funds that were scheduled to help Mobutu build a mobile deterrent force in the Shaba to counter precisely the present sort of incursion.

If the Angola advance persists, we will then approach certain African states and the Soviets to encourage OAU investigation and media[Page 229]tion, as well as use their good offices to secure the release of American missionaries. We are also in contact with our European allies.

[Omitted here are items unrelated to Central Africa.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 28, Evening Reports (State) 3/77. Secret. Carter wrote “Cy, J” in the upper right corner.
  2. In telegram 1992 from Kinshasa, March 8, the Embassy reported news of an Angolan attack on the Shaba Province of Zaire. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770082–0151)
  3. Carter initialed “C” in the left margin.
  4. In telegram 2075 from Kinshasa, March 10, the Embassy reported Mobutu’s oral request for military equipment. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770082–0668)