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Operation Red Bean

Because of its size, mineral wealth, and strategic location, Zaire was able to capitalize on Cold War tensions to garner support from the West. By most accounts, the United States was involved in both the the coup of 1965 which brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power, although the extent of this involvement is not certain. In any case, because of his longstanding relations with the American intelligence community, Mobutu was very aware of United States backing both as a resource and as a handicap. Zaire generally received firm American support in the late 1960s and found American influence helpful in various economic and political disputes.

By 1975 the United States and Zaire found themselves supporting the same faction in the Angolan civil war. The United States, apparently decided that it needed a stable Zaire to support United States strategic interests in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the incoming Carter administration, which had declared its number-one foreign policy objective to be the promotion of human rights, posed a problem for the Mobutu regime, with its poor human rights record.

When rebels invaded Zaire's Shaba Region in 1977 and the Belgians and Americans hesitated to assist Zaire President Mobutu, France stepped in. The French government reportedly responded to Mobutu's call for help by asking King Hassan II of Morocco to supply troops, so that the conflict would appear to be settled "among Africans." Obviously, however, France's role in transporting the Moroccans to Zaire was crucial.

During the second Shaba invasion in 1978, Belgium sent paratroopers, as did the French, to rescue the stranded Europeans at Kolwezi. Planning to negotiate with the rebels, the Belgians proceeded cautiously, landing their forces at Kamina, more than 200 kilometers away. Their hand was forced, however, when the French preceded them by landing the 2éme Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes (2iéme REP) directly at Kolwezi and counterattacking. The effectiveness of this part of France's Rapid Action Force became apparent during this deployment to Kolwezi to rescue foreign nationals from rampaging Congolese rebels.

President Jimmy Carter supported Mobutu's accusations of Cuban and Soviet involvement, even though no hard evidence was presented. But the United States refused to become involved militarily and sent only nonlethal military supplies, such as medical and transportation equipment. In May 1978, the 82nd Airborne Division was alerted for a possible drop into Zaire. In May and June 1978 American aircraft were deployed to to move Belgian and French troops to rescue the westerners in Kolwezi endangered by the Shaba fighting. Eventually, the Air Force placed 445th Airlift Wing crews on alert, and on 04 June 4, three 445th crewmembers flew with active duty crews into Zaire, becoming the first reservists to arrive on the scene with supplies.

Thereafter, France trained and advised two Zairian airborne brigades. Fearing the extension of French influence in their former domain, the Belgians promoted the formation of a joint African defense force to repel future attacks by Zairian dissidents.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:35 ZULU