- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

Before the U.N. Security Council approves Kofi Annan’s plan to make the Congo the U.N.’s largest and costliest mission in the world, the diplomatic do-gooders should spend a few minutes studying the U.N.’s previous largest and costliest mission in the world — in the same Congo 44 years ago.

Mr. Annan wants to more than double the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Congo from 10,800 to 24,000 troops. Last time round the Congo track, the U.N. fielded some 30,000 personnel between 1960 and ‘64. Now, the U.N. needs an additional 37 attack, reconnaissance and support helicopters, and two transport planes to move its peacekeepers around a country a third the size of the United States. Superimposed on a map of the U.S., Congo would stretch from Maine to Florida and from Manhattan to the Mississippi River. It’s the same size as Western Europe.

The tab for this befoolable errand in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: $1.4 billion. U.S. share: 27 percent. When this reporter covered the Congo for Newsweek in 1960-64, militia armies were on a rampage, killing, maiming and raping. The Belgian colonial legacy consisted of 16 university graduates and 136 with a high-school diploma.

The U.N. legacy in the 1960s was Sese Seko Mobutu, a former sergeant in the colonial army, who then spent three decades as the Congo’s supreme dictator. He kept the peace by force of arms, kept the U.S. on his side with his anti-Soviet credentials.

But he was also a world-class kleptomaniac. He plundered the country’s considerable mineral wealth, salted away several billion dollars in European and American banks, and was overthrown by Laurent Kabila in 1998. By then, jungle growth had swallowed a modern network of colonial roads and airports.

Back the Congo went to killing and raping, this time touching off the Dark Continent’s deadliest regional war.

Rwanda and Uganda, Kabila’s original sponsors, turned against him when he didn’t deliver the mineral concessions they thought had been promised. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe sent troops. U.N.-negotiated cease-fires broke down with tedious regularity.

The tumultuous early 1960 years saw anarchy and barbarism and the sudden exodus of a terrorized European population across the Congo River to French Equatorial Africa. Belgian wives and nuns were raped, stores looted, homes burned or occupied. Drunk mutinous soldiers fired randomly at anyone in their way. Tribal scores were settled with spears and machetes.

Genocidal warfare raged between Baluba and Lulua tribesmen. Katangan paramilitary units massaced the victorious Balubas.

Belgian forces returned to restore peace only to be told by newly arrived all-African U.N. forces to butt out.

Cuban mercenaries arrived to fly Harvard-type trainer aircraft for Belgian-backed secessionists in mineral-rich Katanga (now Shaba) Province. The left-leaning, pro-Soviet Patrice Lumumba came to power, and on independence day told Belgium’s King Baudouin, “We are no longer your monkeys.”

Lumumba gave an ultimatum to the U.N. to get out in 48 hours or he would call on Moscow to send troops. Moscow responded with 10 Ilyushin IL-14s painted with Congolese colors. The Eisenhower administration panicked, authorized the CIA to bump off Lumumba.

A U.N. war was fought against Katangese secessionists under Moise Tshombe’s leadership, who wanted to keep Congo’s copper and cobalt riches to himself. Lumumba was fired by figurehead President Kasavubu, after which Lumumba’s and Kasavubu’s goons duked it out.

Lumumba sought U.N. protection, making a break at night to join his tribe in distant Stanleyville. Lumumba was captured by Tshombe’s people. They save the CIA the trouble of ending Lumumba’s life, beating him senseless in a plane flying him to Katanga. Tshombe’s Belgian advisers ordered him killed.

Gen. Mobutu ordered the expulsion of Soviet and Czech diplomats and military advisers to Lumumba. The U.N. decided to take on Tshombe and end Katanga’s secession. Ghurkas attached to the Indian contingent launched Operation Rum Punch and stormed the radio station and telephone exchange.

Irish and Swedish soldiers seized key points in the rest of Katanga. In a counterattack, Tshombe used French veterans of the Algerian war and German veterans of World War II. French mercenary pilots bombed and destroyed U.N. planes on the ground in Elizabethville. Irish units in Jadotville were overrun and taken prisoner. U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold agrees to meet Tshombe across the border in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, but never made it. His DC-4 crashed 10 miles from the airport, killing all aboard.

Tshombe stymied the U.N. with the help of 18,000 men and 1,000 mercenary cadres. The U.N. counterattacked with five Swedish fighter-bombers plus Indian, Canadian and Italian warplanes, dropping 1,000-pound bombs in Operation Grand Slam, destroying Tshombe’s remaining planes on the ground.

Tshombe’s forces retreated to Kolwezi, the rich mining headquarters and site of the mine (Shinkolobwe) that supplied the uranium for the first American atomic bombs. Tshombe then held out three more weeks as the U.N. installed a provincial government that declared secession over. The U.N. packed up and U.N. Secretary General U Thant called it a day.

Meanwhile, the late Lumumba’s spear-waving partisans, known as Simbas, high on hemp and convinced by witchdoctors they were immune to bullets, were on the warpath in eastern and northeastern Congo. They seized Stanleyville and declared a “Provisional Revolutionary Government,” which later became the “Peoples Republic of Congo.”

Simbas slaughtered thousands of “counterrevolutionaries,” including all civil servants and anyone wearing glasses. Bodies were stacked in front of Lumumba’s statue; a panicked capital of Leopoldville turned to Tshombe to save the day.

Tshombe morphed from secessionist leader to president and rehired the mercenaries exiled by the U.N., including “Mad” Mike Hoare (5 Commando), Bob Denard, a former French paratrooper and intelligence agent (Franco-Belgian 6 Commando), and Black Jack Schramme, a renegade Belgian planter (10 Commando).

President Johnson, fearing further Soviet inroads in Africa, sided with Tshombe, and the CIA supplied Italian T6Gs, later joined by demothballed B-26s, and 20 anti-Castro Cuban pilots to fly them. Stanleyville became a major Cold War theater: Soviet, Egyptian (under Abdel Gamal Nasser) and Algerian (under Ahmed Ben Bella) transport planes flew in supplies for the revolutionaries. The Simbas seized some 300 Europeans and five Americans, including a CIA covert agent, and threatened to kill them all if Tshombe’s army forces and mercenary columns came closer.

Johnson dispatched C-130s to Brussels to pick up a battalion of Belgian paratroopers. The Simbas began executing their hostages as the first parachutes deployed over the city; 27 were hacked to death before the Simbas were wiped out by Belgian paratroopers. The mercenary commandos refused to disband when no longer needed. The CIA instructed the Cuban pilots to bomb them.

As the mercenaries fled, Army chief Mobutu moved against Tshombe, exiled him to Europe, and became president of the now renamed country — Zaire. In 1998, Kabila changed it back to Congo. And the rest is history.

Still game to play there, Kofi Annan?

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide