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Operation Support Hope

Rwanda, and its neighbor Burundi to the south, share a common history of enflamed ethnic conflict. In this region, the Tutsi minority has traditionally subjugated the Hutu majority, an ethnic division which had been reinforced under both German and Belgian colonial rule. With Rwandan independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutus officially threw off the Tutsi yoke, and in the process killed thousands of Tutsis and forced thousands more into Zaire and Uganda. In 1973, the Tutsi-dominated Burundi army killed thousands of Burundi Hutus, which set the scene for further massacres of Rwandan Hutus by Rwandan Tutsis.

This history of deep ethnic hatred set the stage for the Rwandan genocide of April 1994 when a plane carrying President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Ntaryamira of neighboring Burundi (both moderate Hutus) was shot down as it approached Kigali airport. As though the shooting down was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.

The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

The RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha accords came under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president's plane. The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the north. The RPF then resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for two months. French forces landed in Goma, Zaire, in June 1994 on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and stopping the fighting there. The Rwandan army was quickly defeated by the RPF and fled across the border to Zaire followed by some 2 million refugees who fled to Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the war ended on July 16, 1994. The RPF took control of a country ravaged by war and genocide. Up to 800,000 had been murdered, another 2 million or so had fled, and another million or so were displaced internally. After Tutsi insurgents defeated the Rwandan army hundreds of thousands of Hutus began fleeing to Zaire, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania.

By July 13th with the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and many of the northern routes held by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), much of the Hutu population felt trapped. Fearful of genocide equal to or greater than that of the one-half million deaths that they had recently visited upon the Tutsis, they began to flee west to Zaire and to the French safe-zone in the southwest. Two million Rwandans settled in refugee camps in several central African locations. Within two days the refugee camps in Goma numbered nearly a million people and the numbers in the southwest had increased from 83,000 to over 200,000. With no relief structure both areas quickly became a nightmare. Conditions in the camps were appalling with starvation and disease exacting a tremendous toll. By July 1994, 3,000 refugees a day died at Goma.

The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The U.S. was one of the largest contributors. The UN peacekeeping operation, UNAMIR, was drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength after the RPF victory.

President Clinton called the situation the "world's worst humanitarian crisis in a generation..." President Clinton announced on 22 July the US would aid the Rwandan refugees, dubbing the operation Support Hope. By July 24th, American military personnel had been deployed to Goma (Zaire), Kigali (Rwanda), and Entebbe (Uganda), setting up the necessary infrastructure to complement and support the humanitarian response community. A joint task force deployed to the region, its peak strength 2,592 (USAFE peak deployed strength, at locations in Africa and Europe: 325). C-5s and C-141s flew 381 sorties during the operation, supported by USAFE-controlled aerial tankers, C-130s flew 996 sorties. Two USAFE C-130s deployed and flew their last mission in central Africa on 27 September. The Army contributed to the US government's desperately needed humanitarian relief operations in Rwanda by providing clean water to combat outbreaks of cholera, helping to bury the dead and integrating the transport and distribution of relief supplies.

By the end of July, a Civil-Military Operations Center [CMOC] had been established in Goma and Entebbe and by the end of the first week in August, a CMOC also been established in Kigali. Working hand-in-hand with the U.N., and other NGOs, the American military quickly established an atmosphere of collaboration and coordination as the major humanitarian problems were quickly addressed.

In Entebbe, the CMOC was collocated with the JTF headquarters at the airport. Located on the fourth floor, it was directly across from the J-3 (Operations) which proved ideal. The goal of this CMOC was to provide 'wholesale' transportation to the retailer, the NGO, who alone dealt directly with the customer, the refugee. The CMOC was constantly aware, and encouraged the necessity, of the need for U.N. control during Operation Support Hope. This quickly established U.N. leadership and responsibility in an environment where it was the primary player. With the U.N. in charge of the operation, the U.S. forces could also hand off to the NGOs and depart more quickly.

Between 30 July and 5th August CMOCs were also established at Goma and Kigali. Both facilitated the U.N. requests for support by concentrating on support efforts for water purification, delivery, and storage (as well as some minor engineering assistance). There was little interface with other NGO's or other civilian agencies. In both locations the U.N. ran the day-to-day humanitarian relief effort while the CMOC quickly became a passive instrument of the U.N. demonstrating 'value added' based purely on logistic capability. This also allowed for a quicker transition to NGO than would otherwise have been the case under a more aggressive U.S. approach.

The success of SUPPORT HOPE could be measured quantitatively: within the first month of the operation, the death rate in Goma fell below 500 per day, and the rate continued to diminish. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8, 1996.

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