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Operation Red Dragon

From January to August 1964, rural insurgency engulfed five provincettes out of twenty-one and made substantial inroads into another five, raising the distinct possibility of a total collapse of the central government. The extraordinary speed with which the rebellions spread among the rural masses attests to the enormous insurrectionary potential that had been building up in previous years. These led to many initial defeats of the Congolese National Army (Arme Nationale Congolaise--ANC), with Joseph-Dsir Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) as chief of staff.

In early August 1964 the the National Liberation Army (Arme Nationale de Libration--ANL), captured the Lumumbist stronghold of Stanleyville. Equipped with armaments left by the routed ANC units, the Simbas pushed on north and west of Stanleyville, eventually penetrating as far west as Lisala on the Congo River. On September 5, with the proclamation of a revolutionary government in Stanleyville, the eastern rebellion reached its high-water mark: almost half of Zaire and seven local capitals out of twenty-one were in rebel hands.

The revolutionary government in Stanleyville decided to hold local European residents hostage, in the hope of using them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the central authorities. Their action resulted in the joint Belgian-American parachute rescue operation (code-named Dragon Rouge, or Red Dragon) on Stanleyville, on 24 November 1964, scheduled to coincide with the arrival of ANC and mercenary units in the vicinity of the provincial capital.

The central government allowed Belgium to intervene to save the 550 Belgian and American hostages being held by secessionist Simba rebels in the cities of Stanleyville (Kisangani) and Paulis (Isiro). A Belgian parachute battalion was flown a distance of 11,500 km by 14 US Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, and parachuted in to carry out a remarkably successful operation.

The capture of Stanleyville dealt a devastating blow to the eastern rebellion. The two key rebel leaders, Gbenye and Soumialot, went into exile in Cairo; demoralization quickly set in among Simbas; by the end of the year, the eastern rebellion was reduced to isolated pockets of resistance.

Prime Minister Mose Tshombe's popularity within the Congo and his prestige throughout Africa were severely damaged by the Belgo-American operation against Stanleyville, which had also provoked heated debates in the UN. In 1965 Mobutu seized power with United States backing.

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