U.S. Sending 800 Troops to Support Relief Efforts in Rwanda
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 1996 Saying the United States cannot turn its back when so many people are at mortal risk, President Clinton is preparing to send about 800 U.S. troops to support humanitarian efforts in Rwanda.
The order comes as over a half million Rwandan displaced by a bloody tribal war two years ago make their way back to Rwanda from refugee camps in Zaire. The U.N. mission will help international relief agencies to provide food and water.
"The mission's aim must be to speed delivery of humanitarian aid and to help refugees who want to go home," said Clinton in his weekly radio address. "Our contribution will reflect our special capabilities, such as providing airport security and helping to airlift forces."
DoD plans call for the Air Force to establish airport operations at three locations Entebbe, Uganda; Kigali, Rwanda; and Mombasa, Kenya. DoD is flying reconnaissance flights over the region and has assessment teams in Rwanda meeting with government officials. Once approved to deploy, Bacon said, troops will move quickly into position and begin humanitarian operations.
Nearly half the American troops who will deploy will work from Entebbe Airport the main staging area. "It can take the big planes like the C5s," said Bacon. "There's enough room to unload equipment coming in, parcel it out to smaller planes such as C130s or 141s and move out closer to Kigali."
About 200 U.S. service members will anchor the site at Kigali, while another 100 will serve in Mombasa.
Each airport will have an Air Force tanker airlift control element from stateside Air Mobility Command bases units that initially deployed to Europe Nov. 14. These units manage all temporary airfield operations including command and control, communications, aerial port services, maintenance, security, weather and intelligence. The units will remain in Europe until they receive approval to deploy to Africa.
Fewer Americans will participate than originally planned, Pentagon officials said. First estimates had the United States sending nearly 5,000 troops into the region, with 1,000 infantry soldiers joining a Canadianled multinational force in Zaire. However, Bacon said, recent changes in Rwanda allowed DoD to scale back its support to airfield operations and humanitarian aid.
"We realized that there were the possibilities of hostilities and that our forces might have faced the risk of being caught in crossfires between competing rebel groups," said Bacon. "That risk has now gone away. We're moving into a safe situation, so this has allowed us to scale back the mission considerably."
Once operations begin in Africa, the military airfields will help distribute nearly $140 million in U.S. humanitarian aid to the refugees.
DoD officials consider this humanitarian effort a shortterm operation and initially planned it to last about four months. Bacon said DoD may alter its plans again if warranted by changing circumstances in Rwanda and Zaire. He said the goal is to "jump start" the aid process to prevent a disaster, then hand the program to another agency.