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New Tape / Congo

The crisis that suddenly burst upon the Republic of the Congo, as the new nation was called, in the wake of independence, on June 30, 1960, has several dimensions: the mutiny of the Force Publique on July 5; the secession of the country's richest region, Katanga, on July 11, soon followed by a similar move in southeastern Kasai Province (now Kasai-Oriental Region), which declared itself the Independent Mining State of South Kasai on August 8; and the role of the United Nations, first as a peacekeeping force and ultimately as the chosen instrument for bringing Katanga back into the fold of the central government. The crisis was further compounded by the trial of strength at the center between President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba, culminating in Lumumba's assassination at the hands of the Katangan secessionists in January 1961.

The breakdown of central authority offered Moise Tshombe an ideal pretext for proclaiming the long-planned independence of Katanga on July 11, 1960. Although Brussels withheld formal recognition, the Belgian government played a crucial role in providing military, economic, and technical assistance to the secessionist province. That the secession lasted as long as it did (from July 11, 1960, to January 14, 1963) is largely a reflection of the efforts of Belgian civilian and military authorities to prop up their client state. Yet from the very beginning, the operation ran into serious difficulties. The most serious diplomatic blow against the Tshombe regime came on February 21, 1961, when the UN Security Council passed a resolution urging the UN "to take immediately all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo, including arrangements for cease-fire, the halting of all military operations, the prevention of clashes, and the use of force, if necessary, in the last resort."

Ambiguous as it was, the phrasing of the UN February 21 resolution left little doubt about the sense of frustration felt by Secretary General Dag Hammarskj÷ld in dealing with the Katanga secession. Keeping the peace without meddling in the internal affairs of Katanga proved a contradiction; UN efforts to act as a mediator between Katanga and the central government met with repeated setbacks. As one reconciliation formula after another was tried and found wanting, it dawned on many people at the UN that the scope of permissible action had to be substantially broadened, which is what the February 21 resolution sought to achieve.

The new mandate provided the basis for Operation Rumpunch on August 28, 1961. As it became clear that Tshombe had no intention of complying with the UN request that mercenaries and European officers be withdrawn from Katanga--a move that he realized would cripple his security forces and quickly bring the collapse of his regime--UN troops at last sprang into action, securing the Katangan post office, radio, and residences of key European and Congolese officials and rounding up mercenaries and European officers. The operation, however, was suddenly halted when the Belgian consul in LÚopoldville persuaded local UN officials that he would complete the operation by himself, a pledge that turned out to be a ruse as only regular Belgian officers and not mercenaries were expelled from the province.

Anger and frustration on both sides mounted rapidly. A new UN plan, Operation Morthor, following rapidly after Rumpunch and expected to go into effect on September 13, was no longer merely to rid the province of mercenaries and foreign advisers but to terminate the secession by force. Forewarned of the impending attack, the Katangan gendarmes put up a stiff resistance, while a lone jet fighter strafed the UN troops. News of UN attacks on civilian installations was received with indignation in European capitals. Morthor ended in a total fiasco. It was at this point, on September 17, that Hammarskj÷ld decided to give up force and once again try to arrive at a negotiated solution with Tshombe. Hammarskj÷ld never made it to the site of their meeting in Ndola Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), however; shortly before it was due to land, his aircraft crashed into a wooded hillside, killing all passengers.

The next and final phase in the Katangan imbroglio began with the so-called "U Thant Plan," made public on August 10, 1962, and ended with Tshombe's announcement, on January 14, 1963, that "the secession was now terminated." The plan, which offered yet another constitutional formula for reunification, at first met with Tshombe's approval; then equivocation ensued, and the work of the joint LÚopoldville-╔lisabethville commissions soon bogged down. As tensions mounted between UN troops and Katangan gendarmes, little was needed to trigger an explosion. It came on Christmas Eve, when UN troops accused the Katangan forces of shooting down a UN helicopter. On December 28 Tshombe called for a general uprising of the population, to which the UN responded by moving against key points. This time the tide moved decisively against the gendarmes. In the end, Tshombe had no alternative but to concede defeat. After two and a half years of conflict and crisis, the Katangan secession had finally come to an end. Many of the remaining Katangan gendarmes went into exile in Angola. Others were incorporated into the Congolese military.

The Congo crisis of 1960, during which the former Belgian colony plunged into anarchy, demonstrated anew the importance of moving men and cargo quickly over extreme distances and underscored the existing deficiencies in strategic airlift. The Congo operation, nicknamed New Tape, ended in January 1964, after MATS C-124, C-133, and jet-powered C-135s had flown 63,798 passengers and 18,593 tons of cargo. Most of the New Tape missions originated in either the United States or West Germany, because of the difficulty in obtaining clearance for aircraft to fly over or take off from the soil of France.


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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:21 ZULU