80. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Schaufele) and the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance1

Zaire—Current Information

Our intelligence on the invasion is limited and confirmed information is particularly scarce. [1 line not declassified] We have moved additional personnel and equipment to Lubumbashi (approximately 400 kilometers from the fighting) and hope to obtain air photography within the next week.

Tactical Situation

The invaders entered Zaire March 8 and occupied three towns along the western and southern borders of Shaba Region with Angola: Kapanga (in the north), the border and railhead town of Dilolo, and the manganese mining town of Kisenge (in the south).

Moving slowly along the Dilolo-Kolwezi, the invaders are now somewhere east of Mutshatsa, probably in the area of Kayembe, approximately 80 kilometers west of Kolwezi. There are unconfirmed intelligence reports that the invaders have also moved north from [Page 242] Kapanga towards the Kasai Region, and south of Kolwezi towards the key junction of Tenke (the rail link to the north). Finally, there are unconfirmed reports that as many as 250 invaders have infiltrated into Kolwezi itself.

There have been no significant battles; the only confirmed fire-fight was the ambushing (with upwards of 200 casualties) of a Zairian unit near Kisenge in the first few days.

The Invaders

In one of their rare announcements, the invaders have identified themselves as ex-Katanga Gendarmes. The Zairian Government claims they number 5,000 and are accompanied by Cubans and/or mercenaries—which we doubt. We estimate their numbers at approximately 2,000. There are unconfirmed reports that up to 4,000 more Katangan Gendarmes are in reserve in Angola.

In local terms, the invaders are experienced and disciplined troops. Although the Zairians claim they are equipped with armor, rockets, and heavy artillery, we have no independent confirmation. We assume they have mostly small arms and crew served weapons (probably from former Portuguese and/or perhaps Cuban and Soviet stocks) as well as vehicles.

Angolan, Cuban and Soviet Backing

We assume that at a minimum the Soviet and the Cubans (who helped train the Katangans during the past two years) acquiesced in the Zaire invasion. The Angolans are presumably providing at least logistical support from their side of the border. Angolan President Neto has admitted to Nigerian Foreign Affairs Commissioner Garba that the Gendarmes were under his “tutelage.”2

The Invader’s Objectives

A dissident exile movement called the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo (FNLC) claims responsibility for the invasion. Apart from press statements by the FNLC and the Gendarmes’ own announcement that their aim was to liberate Zaire from Mobutu, the leaders have remained silent. There are no prominent political figures positively identified with the invasion.

To date the invaders occupy Lunda tribal territory; and so are “at home.” Their military objectives remain unclear: they could remain in Lunda country and challenge Mobutu at long distance; they could be [Page 243] preparing to take the copperbelt towns and announce an alternative government.

Opposition Figures and Movements

Opposition to Mobutu consists of a number of small, fragmented movements led by various exiled political figures. There is also a minor insurgent opposition in the far east of the country which Mobutu has not been able to eliminate, but which has not yet tried to exploit the invasion.

A number of the opposition figures recently formed a coalition and presented a letter to our Embassy in Paris asking the USG to withdraw support from Mobutu. They are meeting with the old-line radical Gizenga on April 6 to work out a common negotiating platform with Mobutu.

Political Atmosphere in Zaire

More important than organized exile dissidence is the emergence of vocal opposition to Mobutu within the Zairian establishment. From a position of popularity as the man who restored order, Mobutu has in the past three years lost most of his credibility with Zairians (both elite and the mass). This results primarily from a series of disastrous political and economic policies rather than from ideological differences. The invasion appears to have brought criticism to a point where highly placed members of the elite no longer support his continuation in office.

The Zairian Armed Forces

The air force transport wing (C–130s) appears to be performing well but the attack component equipped with Mirage jets and Macchi fighters has been useless.

The Zairian army numbers under 30,000, plus 30,000 Gendarmes (police). It has little heavy equipment. Morale, training and competent leadership are lacking. There are mixed reports as to how well Zairian units performed in the Angolan war, but in the end all of them were demoralized by the beating they took from the Cuban backed Angolans.

Their officer corps is, broadly speaking, divided into two groups: the blatantly political elements and a number of trained professionals. Mobutu has constantly balanced off these groups. The units and officers sent to Shaba so far have been drawn from the poorest elements of the army.

There were no Zairian forces west of Kolwezi when the attack began, and no more than three battalions in the whole region. They have since transported upwards of five battalions (possibly 3,000 men) to Shaba. Zaire’s best units, the para-commandos, remain in the Kinshasa area.3

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USG Military Assistance

Up to recently, U.S. military assistance has been fairly modest and largely concentrated in transport, communications and training. We have shipped to date $1.4 million in non-lethal military equipment and are pending approval of approximately $1.8 million worth of radios, batteries, spare parts, etc., plus authorization to use $1 million in FMS credits for POL products. $33.4 million in FMS funds remain unused from the Transitional Quarter and FY 1977 credits of $38 million.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 2, Africa: 1–12/77. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Marks and Thorne. Sent through Habib. Carter, Brzezinski, and Aaron initialed the memorandum. Tab 1, a map of Zaire, was not attached.
  2. In telegram 3698 from Lagos, April 1, the Embassy reported on Garba’s mission to Zaire and Angola and Neto’s admission that Katangese gendarmes were “under his tutelage.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770113–0865)
  3. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.