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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Part 1- The modern mercenary


How this all started


This is the first of three parts on mercenaries in modern warfare

Mercenaries are as old as warfare. Someone has always been willing to pick up a weapon for a paycheck. But the modern mercenary started in with the end of colonialism in Africa in the 1960's.

Overthrowing Undesirable Regimes: The Congo

The military aspects of the 1960-1963 Congo conflict with secessionist Katanga Province were complex: As a U.N. force arrived on U.S. Air Force transports to support the Congolese government, Americans were providing air power and mercenary forces to assist Tshombe's secessionist forces and the Belgian paratroops, who had begun arriving on 10 July.51 The CIA's use of mercenaries dated from the first American involvement in the newly independent Congo. The lessons learned from the Congo crisis would influence American covert policy long afterward; Lawrence Devlin, described as the "éminence grise of the Congo program," would subsequently be given control of the American paramilitary operations in Laos, return in the early 1970s to take charge of the CIA's Africa Division, and dominate the CIA's African operations until his retirement in 1974.52

In January 1961, Tshombe's "government" was bolstered by a gendarmerie with a core of some 250 former Belgian Force Publique officers and from 30 to 40 army "officers on loan," who had remained behind after most Belgian troops left the province in August 1960. At that time, from 50 to 100 mercenaries of varying nationalities were integrated into the gendarmerie.54 By the end of February, some 200 Englishspeaking mercenaries were reportedly recruited, primarily from South Africa and Rhodesia, but including veterans of military service in Malaya. Belgian and French recruits, probably numbering several hundred more, were integrated into mixed AfricanEuropean units of the gendarmerie.55

The Katanga mercenaries were recruited both through high rates of pay and through the local information services' depiction of Katanga as a bastion of European civilization against communism. French counterinsurgent Roger Trinquier later claimed he had been encouraged to go to Katanga by French Defense Minister Pierre Messmer but was ultimately thwarted by opposition from the French Foreign Ministry (he did in fact go, but did not stay). Although Trinquier's reputation made his direct involvement in Katanga problematic for French authorities, junior officers fresh from the debacle of Algeria and extremist advocates of the theory of guerre révolutionnaire faced fewer obstacles in going south to Katanga.56 Although conflicts with U.N. forces ensued, the principal mercenary tasks in Katanga after the death of Lumumba were to subdue ethnic groups resisting Tshombe's "independent" government. Operations in the Ba-Luba areas, where poorly armed resistance groups had emerged, took the form of traditional punitive raids and routine atrocities.57 The mercenary force in place by the end of February 1961 typified the CIA-sponsored mercenaries that would appear elsewhere around the world in subsequent decades:

[A] band of soldiers who ranged from hard-bitten professional killers to wild-eyed idealists who were convinced that they were saving the world from communism. Their motives varied from the need for money and the desire for a fight to a quite genuine feeling that they were conducting a crusade to defeat communism and protect the white man in Africa .... Whatever their motives, these soldiers were for the most part ruthless, tough, and unscrupulous and they were known locally as "les affreux"-the terrible ones.58


The level of terror would rise dramatically after the secession crisis, with Tshombe's assumption of national leadership.

The death of Lumumba removed the primary rationale for Western support for an independent Katanga, and in January 1963, what had become a military stalemate ultimately ended. In July 1964, a U. S.backed military initiative installed Moises Tshombe himself as prime minister of the independent Congo.59 By that time, however, major revolts against the central government were in progress in the eastern regions around Stanleyville-which was captured by rebels in August l964-and elsewhere. The three years of conflict that ensued saw the American unconventional war become "a classic counterinsurgency campaign."60

Sometimes called "Lumumbist" the rebel movements that broke out after the death of Lumumba were armed, in part, by neighboring nationalist governments (against alleged promises of replacement by the Soviets)!' However, they appeared neither national in scope nor nationalist in orientation, but rather disjointed and politically inchoate. Although not a single unified force, they did, by late 1964, dominate almost half the country. The principal rebel group, known as the "Simbas" ("Lions"), saw the expulsion of Europeans from their dominions in the northern region around Stanleyville as their principal task, to be performed with the utmost ferocity.62 The American counterinsurgents turned to the same tactics employed by their Belgian colleagues: mercenary massacres and punitive bombing, strafing and shelling.

The counterinsurgency campaign was a joint operation between the United States and Belgium, and on much the same terms as the previous collaboration in Katanga. President Johnson's Secretary of State Dean Rusk approved a 7 August 1964 policy paper requiring an "immediate effort . . with Belgians to help Tshombe raise gendarme-mercenary force along with bolstering whatever force there is to hold present strong points and to start rebel roll back."63 Already in progress, however, was a CIA/Defense Department program to provide the Congolese with what the New York Times later dubbed "an instant air force."64 Early in 1964, the CIA had begun providing Cuban exile pilots through a Miami proprietary (Caribbean Marine Aero Corporation)65 "to fly armed Italian T6 training planes against 'Muleist' insurgents in the western Kwilu Province"; and by April the Defense Department had agreed to provide six T-28 fighters, ten C-47 transports, six H-21 heavyduty helicopters, spare parts, 100 technicians, as well as "several" counterinsurgency advisers!66

What one author calls "the interdependent covert-overt pattern of support"67 was exemplified by the CIA's provision of covert Cuban pilots (and no doubt others) to make use of the overt grants of aircraft (by Defense)-a pattern of CIA/Defense interaction still apparent in the 1980s Nicaragua intervention and most obvious at its Honduran end. The CIA's paramilitary specialists were also augmented by regular military trainers attached to a military mission in the capital: By June 1964, the number of foreign trainers had been boosted to ninety Belgians, seventy Americans, and ten Israelis .611 The CIA's assessment of their main contribution provides a telling insight into the real role of "military advisers" in insurgency/unconventional warfare situations: "As trainers, these men can have little short-term effect... but as tactical advisers they are already useful."69

The fall of Stanleyville prompted an increased level of U.S. involvement, including the prompt arrival of four C-130 military transports, a group of B-26 bombers (totaling seven or eight by January 1965), and arms and equipment for the ground war.70 Fast patrol boats were provided to interdict arms shipments (and personnel movement) across Lake Tanganyika. Even maintenance was provided for, with a staff of 50 to 100 Europeans employed by another CIA proprietary, the Liechtenstein-registered company WIGMO (Western International Ground Maintenance Organization).71 The Belgians also brought in supplies and a force of 300 to 400 men to provide command and logistics assistance.72 Much of the buildup was directed at the mercenary dimensions of the "counterinsurgency": The new air power and weaponry was intended to support a force of some 700 mercenaries (Europeans, South Africans, and Rhodesians) assembled by Tshombe, the CIA, and the Belgians.73 A CIA officer later described the project as "bringing in our own animals."74 Not all the U.S.-backed "mercenaries" in the Congo-and later in Angola-were mercenaries per se. Marchetti and Marks's landmark CIA study notes: "By 1964, the CIA had imported its own mercenaries into the Congo, and the agency's B-26 bombers, flown by Cuban exile pilots . . . were carrying out regular missions against insurgent groups," including regular bombing missions.71 These authors described the Cubans interchangeably as "under contract" or as "mercenaries," a perhaps frivolous distinction. One study of the Congo crisis defined mercenaries as individuals who were "recruited on an individual basis and owed no direct allegiance to any foreign Government a definition that would rule out forces "on loan" from second governments. Some of the better-known of the Congo mercenaries, like the former French NCO Bob Denard, who took over command of the French-speaking Six Commando that had fought for the Katangans in the war of secession, were later recruited by the United States to work in Angola.77

The terror of the subsequent months was reciprocal: The rebels killed thousands in a rampage apparently driven by interethnic rivalries, hostility toward Congolese officials of any kind, and a response in kind to the colonial racial policies of the past. Their adversaries combined bombing and strafing with ground campaigns of annihilation, or "counterterror":

[T]he Congo air force bombed villages in rebel-held areas and the white mercenary columns advanced, slaughtering wholesale those presumed to be rebel supporters. In one town alone, Kindu, the mercenaries killed some three thousand people, according to one of their numbers. [Joseph-Dsiré] Mobutu's army, which followed in the wake of the mercenaries, was considered even more brutal.78


The campaign against the Simba rebels climaxed as ground forces approached rebel-held Stanleyville in the north. Rebels held some 1,000 white hostages, including about fifty Americans, and threatened their execution should the advance continue. The response was again a joint BelgianAmerican operation: Belgian paratroopers dropped on the city on 24 November 1961 from U.S. aircraft. Although some fifty of the hostages were killed by their captors as the paratroopers moved in, the operation was generally deemed successful in the West: Some of the hostages had, in fact, been rescued, and the rebel forces largely annihilated. For America's African policy, however, the effect of the affair was two-edged. African leaders like Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, who had sought to bring about the negotiated release of the hostages and an end to the conflict, felt betrayed by American's resort to blatant colonialist intervention.

The "insurgency" continued in the Congo for another three years before it was finally extinguished. American CIA pilots (most of the "Cubans" were naturalized Americans) and some 100 WIGMO contract pilots were still based there as of 1966, with major American involvement in operations ending around mid-1967.79 A last episode of direct intervention occurred in July 1967, when, ironically, Mobutu (now Sese Seko-who had finally taken power for good in a November 1965 coup) called for help to put down a rebellion of white mercenaries. The United States graciously did so, flying in three aircraft, with "supporting personnel," to aid in crushing the mutiny. Congressional concern over possible escalation of U.S. involvement forced the withdrawal of two of the aircraft in August and the third in December, and won a pledge from President Johnson that future direct involvement in Africa would only be occasioned by "the most overwhelming necessity."80 The next major covert engagement of the United States in Africa would be in Angola.

posted by Steve @ 12:49:00 AM

12:49:00 AM

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