U.S. Deploys Troops to Central Africa
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 1997 About 350 U.S. troops have deployed to Africa to prepare for a possible evacuation of Americans from Zaire.
"We are now making preparations to help Americans get out of Zaire should it become a disorderly environment," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said March 25.
Rebel Zairian forces are conquering territory in the African nation, Bacon said, and DoD officials are alert to the possibility of disorder in the capital, Kinshasa. U.S., U.N., French and South African officials are trying to negotiate a solution, he said.
"If we can get a peaceful solution that includes a cease-fire and maintains stability there, then presumably the crisis will dissipate," he remarked.
U.S. officials estimate about 500 Americans are in Zaire, including about 320 in Kinshasa. This includes missionaries, business people and about 40 associated with the U.S. Embassy, Bacon said. "The question of whether to evacuate embassy personnel will be made by the ambassador on the scene and by the State Department, Bacon said. DoD forces are there to support that decision, he said.
DoD has a three-part plan under way, Bacon said. First, DoD directed U.S. European Command to deploy 350-member enabling force to Brazzaville, Congo, and Libreville, Gabon. Command and support elements for a forward joint task force are from Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy, and some U.S.-based units, DoD officials said.
A small number of communicators are in Zaire setting up a communication facility in Kinshasa. A headquarters operation and an air traffic control operation are being set up in Brazzaville, and another air traffic control site is being set up in Libreville.
Second, a permissive force with another 325 troops will evacuate people if that becomes necessary, Bacon said. The force includes helicopters and some C-130s and will be in Libreville and Brazzaville.
About 1,400 U.S. Marines aboard the USS Nassau will move from the Mediterranean to near the Congo coast, just north of Zaire, Bacon said. They should be in position by April 2, he said.
"What we're preparing for is an unpredictable situation," Bacon said. It's better to send in a solid, well-trained force than one that might be too small to do the job, he said.