Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a keen advocate of clandestine operations. As Allied Supreme Commander, Eisenhower had considerable experience with the clandestine operations of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, whose operations provided the backbone of the postwar intelligence apparatus. On assuming office, Eisenhower undertook a reassessment of the national security establishment and paid particular attention to the field of covert action. In the 1952 campaign, he had attacked Truman’s containment policy as “accepting the status quo” and spoken of the need to “wrest the initiative from the Kremlin, and, if possible, ‘liberate’ areas from Communist control.”1 A feature of his administration was the liberal deployment of the new resources of the CIA overseas in efforts to regain the initiative-and the development of a similar covert capability within the regular armed services. Eisenhower was a patron of unconventional warfare, much as Kennedy would later be an ardent promoter of counterinsurgency.
The administration’s activist policy of intervention put into practice the Cold War “anything goes” philosophy in a manner Truman had only contemplated. The best-known operation, the overthrow of elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, provided a model for subsequent unconventional warfare operations-CIA and military-in its combination of political and military elements. In 1953, Spruille Braden, former Assistant Secretary of State under Truman, called for U.S. action on Guatemala in now-familiar terms:
[D]iplomatic “finesse and patience” are all right under the Marquis of Queensbury rules, but they may bring defeat if applied in a bar-room brawl, such as we are engaged in with the Kremlin . Frequently it is necessary to fight fire with fire. No one is more opposed than I to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. But ... we may be compelled to intervene . . . . I should like to underscore that because Communism is so blatantly an international and not internal affair, its suppression, even by force, in an American country, by one or more of the other republics, would not constitute an intervention in the internal affairs of the former....2
In the event, a high-pressure diplomatic and propaganda offensive, intended to justify intervention in Guatemala, paralleled a prototype covert operation combining psychological warfare, mercenary paramilitary forces, and sanitized air power. The elected Arbenz government had antagonized the United States through its economic policies notably land reform and labor legislation impinging on American companies-and an ideological shift away from the lockstep anticommunism required by the United States of its Organization of American States neighbors. There were economic factors as well: Just as the successful CIA joint operation with the British, Project AJAX, ousted the Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh and returned the Shah to power in August 1953 as a consequence of Mossadegh’s meddling with oil interests (notably his expropriation of the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company3), so was the Guatemalan intervention motivated in part by the expropriation of some of the United Fruit Company’s fallow land.4
The rationale of intervention in Guatemala and elsewhere during the Cold War followed consistent patterns, with actions adjusted to the constraints required by the American political system and an appearance of compliance with the international legal order. American intervention (covert or overt) was always justified (obliquely or directly) by an appeal to a higher duty: “furtherance of self-determination; opposition to aggression; protection of the principle of peaceful change; and the legality of the intervention, as provided by an invitation from the authority in power.”5 All of these were subsumed in the Cold War “moral imperative” to meet the communist menace, for, by definition, “communism was aggressive, violent, illegal, and undemocratic.”6 The United States’ self imposed moral restraints on foreign policy were overcome at will by invoking the Communist Threat (in the 1980s, International Terrorism became a similar password). Convincing a skeptical world, however, required more than moral rhetoric.
Sometime in 1953, a renegade Guatemalan colonel, Carlos Castillo Armas-a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas-was selected by the United States to head an “invasion” force, and to provide a political front for American efforts to force Arbenz’s left-leaning government from office.7 According to E. Howard Hunt, then a CIA official (and later a Watergate “plumber”), Armas had been selected by process of elimination, and because “our paramilitary people . . . were impressed with Castillo [Armas]’s qualities as a military leader.”’ Indeed, Castillo Armas’s leadership qualities (and personal courage) were shown to be considerable, if not during the “Liberation,” in which hardly a shot was fired (there were no casualties among his “Liberation Army”), then in the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations with his fellow colonels in the aftermath of Arbenz’s capitulation.
Castillo Armas’s principal task in the months before military action began was to provide a psychological rallying point-or lightning rod for the United States’ preinvasion propaganda offensive. A “Liberation Army” radio campaign began on 1 May 1954, and every effort was made to ensure the Guatemalan government and army were aware that, just across the border in Honduras, Castillo Armas was drilling a CIA “army”-this in order to undermine Arbenz’s already shaky relation with the armed forces and to encourage their acquiescence in his ouster when the time came for action. The broadcasts were augmented by less than veiled threats from the U.S. government. John Peurifoy, the new U.S. ambassador appointed in October 1953 to supervise the operation, who was fresh from fighting communists in Greece, told Time magazine in January 1954 that the United States might be forced “to take some measures to prevent Guatemala from falling into the lap of international Communism.”10 Peurifoy would later brag that Arbenz’s ouster was accomplished only forty-five minutes off schedule.11
The Guatemalan intervention was to be covert not clandestine, a distinction of both intent and method: Covert operations were “so planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor.” They differed from clandestine operations “in that emphasis is placed on concealment of identity of sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation.”12 A clandestine effort would have aimed at so subtle a change as to evade both accountability and awareness that intervention had occurred. The intention in Guatemala, by contrast, was to evade accountability while letting the whole world know that a regime that challenged the United States would suffer drastic consequences.
On the CIA end, Project PBSUCCESS-the operation’s code name set up a headquarters at Opa Locka, Florida, with a budget between $5 and $7 million. Richard Immerman has pointed out that PBSUCCESS was the first CIA project set up with a separate infrastructure and with virtually open-ended access to resources and funding:
[PBSUCCESS] involved some one hundred CIA agents and contract operatives. The agency also enlisted the services of scores of recruits, mostly mercenaries, from Guatemala and the neighboring Central American nations, especially Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama ....[T]he United States government flew personnel, aircraft, and other supplies to France’s Field, an abandoned airstrip in the Canal Zone . . . from which they could be transported under cover to opposition camps in Nicaragua and Honduras . . . . The unit received its own communication facilities, support people, cover agents, and special authority to requisition confidential funds.
The compartmentalized setup became the norm for future unconventional warfare operations, military or paramilitary, from the Bay of Pigs to the secret armies of Southeast Asia.
On 18 June, Castillo Armas crossed into Guatemala from Honduras at the head of a force probably numbering less than 300 men. Although well-armed with Bren guns, mortars, and even flamethrowers, the unopposed “Liberation Army” halted just inside Guatemala in the town of Esquipulas, known then for its shrine to the Black Christ (and later also as a place of pilgrimage to honor the “Liberation”).13 The Liberacionistas waited in Esquipulas while the real “war” was waged by American pilots and assorted mercenaries in aircraft. Those in charge included Whiting Willauer, a World War II veteran of irregular air warfare who had served as General Claire Chennault’s deputy in the Flying Tigers. 14 At dawn on 18 June, a group of B-26 bombers and three P-47 fighters appeared above Guatemala City, dropped leaflets, and then began strafing and bombing runs. Targets were selected largely for their psychological effect: military drill areas, ammunition dumps, oil storage tanks. One of the pilots, American Jerry DeLarm, later told NBC’s John Chancellor how he “blew up the government oil reserves and subsequently when the political situation was up in the air and required decisive action-the main powder magazine of the army.”15
Although unable to induce the Guatemalan army to fight, apart from some desultory antiaircraft fire, Arbenz held on to his precarious office for nine days. Castillo Armas and his “army” stayed put in Esquipulas unmolested, while U.S. air power continued a steady diet of harassing raids on the capital and the port of San José (sinking the British freighter Springfjord in the process). Despite the lack of opposition in the air, the small “Liberation” air wing suffered from attrition in the first days of the operation, with several aircraft crash-landing (some sources refer to two having been shot down, although no casualties were ever acknowledged). CIA requests for replacements required a presidential decision, although U.S. Air Force planes were standing by in Nicaragua, apparently for just such a contingency. Rapidly “reflagged,” the aircraft were soon in the air over Guatemala City keeping up the pressure.
On 27 June, Arbenz stepped down, replaced by a junta of colonels. After considerable arm-twisting (Ambassador Peurifoy called it “knocking heads together”), Peurifoy won the agreement of the colonels to invite Castillo Armas to head a new government. And so on 3 July, Castillo Armas returned to Guatemala City in triumph. And like his Iranian counterpart, General Fozlollah Zahedi, who rode into Tehran the year before on the back of an American tank after the fall of Mossadegh, Castillo Armas came to the capital in the comfort of Peurifoy’s embassy plane.16
The key to the operation was to ensure that the Guatemalan army would choose not to fight. The gambit was explained to Eisenhower in a CIA memo of 2O June:
The entire effort is ... more dependent upon psychological impact ... than actual military strength, although it is upon the ability of the Castillo Armas effort, to create and maintain for a short time the impression of very substantial military strength that the success of this particular effort primarily depends.17
The same approach would be taken in 1961, in the abortive invasion of Cuba.
The United States’ abortive invasion of Cuba in the early hours of 17 April 1961 brought together the paramilitary and military apparatus for unconventional warfare. An “Eyes Only” CIA paper-”A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime”-had been approved more than a year before by President Eisenhower at a White House meeting on 17 March 1960, its stated objective “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the US in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of US intervention.” The “means of accomplishing this end,” essentially, was “to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside Cuba by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”18
The document would stand as the “basic policy paper” on Cuba, and present the Kennedy administration with its first crisis of judgment. A 23 March 1960 memorandum detailed ways the CIA was to “intensify UW [unconventional warfare] activities in Cuba.”
CIA Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell assumed primary planning responsibility, drawing on his prior experience in the 1954 overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz. Bissell himself later confirmed that the plan entailed a “protracted period of psychological and political warfare,” as in the Guatemala operation, and a gamble that the Cubans would respond like the Guatemalans: “The chance of true success-that is the chance of toppling Castro-was predicated on the assumption that faced with that kind of pressure, he would suffer the same loss of nerve” as Arbenz.19 Planning and implementation incorporated basic features outlined in the armed forces’ emerging doctrine of unconventional warfare and involved the forces of the CIA, the Army Special Forces, and the conventional forces of the navy in coordinated action. David Atlee Phillips, the CIA’s propaganda chief for the operation, later identified the head of the military phase of the operation as a “dour” colonel with a reputation as “a brilliant guerrilla strategist in the Philippines during World War II”possibly Colonel Charles Bohannan, who was based in Colombia only the previous year.”’ Another source identified one of the trainers of the task force as Philippine Colonel Napoleon Valeriano.21 The ideological rationale, planning, and execution of the Bay of Pigs operation provided a model for a later American adventure in UW: the 1980s war on Nicaragua.
In purely military terms, the Cuban invasion was planned as a fairly conventional military operation to establish a beachhead. The political end, the overthrow of Castro, was to be achieved in the uprisings to follow. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s February 1961 evaluation of the plan’s military merits defined the principal task of the invasion force: “To hold a beachhead long enough to establish a provisional government, act as a rallying point of volunteers and as a catalyst for uprisings throughout Cuba. “22
The bottom line, the operational objective, was to establish and hold that beachhead: Having done so, if only in a remote corner of Cuba, the United States could then have recognized a “government” in exile and sent in (conventional) military assistance. The joint Chiefs’ February 1961 evaluation of the plan found it militarily viable ([the political conditions were as described by the CIA. Success even in the military view was ultimately “dependent on the degree of local Cuban support.” In the event, the CIA misread or disregarded that crucial indicator. There were no pro-American guerrillas waiting to link up with the invasion force; there would be neither a defensible beachhead nor a provisional government; and American intervention would be exposed in all its vainglory.
The avoidance of “any appearance of US intervention” required the creation of a Cuban exile organization, an alternative “government” to which the invasion could be attributed. The procedure was to be repeated twenty years later with the packaging of the Nicraguan contras. The postmortem of the operation, an inquiry headed by General Maxwell Taylor, found preliminary moves to this end had begun immediately after Batista’s fall.23 The ideal leadership envisioned was a group of managers not overtly inimical to the revolution but friendly to the United States:
The general conclusion reached in the latter part of 1959 was that any group or coalition of groups which could hope to supplant the Castro regime could gain popular acceptance only on the basis of continuing the revolution, with more practical management, and less nationalist, socialist and Marxist content.
According to the same source, the leadership was then carefully selected-by the United States: “As the project approached . . . approval on the highest governmental level, the possible composition of a junta’ was discussed on the appropriate Assistant Secretary of State level.” The Department of State provided “advice on personalities and substance.”24
Although Batista associates were recruited for the military (and also the strictly terrorist) UW actions against Cuba (just as former Somoza henchmen provided the leadership for the contras in the 1980s), the planners were aware that the link should remain secret. The initial policy papers warned that the United States would have to publicly disassociate itself from Batista supporters, although the operations people were reluctant to reject willing recruits for the commission of mayhem .21 Even the operations people, however, were aware of the political imperative: If useful in the larger strategy, the sponsors would willingly sacrifice some of their more unsavory allies. In his meeting with the president on 5 April, just ten days before jump-off, Richard Bissell outlined a plan (later aborted) to arrest one of the more flamboyant counterrevolutionaries operating with CIA help out of Miami and impound his B-25 aircraft and several small boats: “All of this intended to show US disassociation with former Batista followers. “26
A “revolutionary” executive was duly rounded up in Miami on 11 May 1960; and on 13 February 1961, two months before “D-Day,” presidential approval was received to set up a “Revolutionary Council.”27 Although the Bay of Pigs invasion was to be carried out in the name of the “Revolutionary Council,” Kennedy warned in a White House meeting on 5 April 1961 that “the council should not be informed ahead of time. “28
Although the Cuban offensive was organized on a considerably larger scale than its Guatemalan prototype six years before (it brought in all of the U. S. armed services), its general thrust was essentially the same as that of 1954. In the face of overwhelming force, the government of a small, vulnerable state was expected to bow to force majeure. There was little sign of interest in the kind of partisan or “guerrilla” operation espoused in the Cold War literature of the time. The invasion effort mimicked not insurgency but a conventional military operation. What made this unconventional warfare exercise “unconventional” was its use of foreign nationals as cannon fodder, its emphasis on deniability, its sidestepping of the rules of war, and its limited commitment of conventional military support as a means of minimizing international censure in the event of failure.
Of course, the paramilitary planners badly misjudged the scenario. Cuba 1961 was not Guatemala 1954. The Guatemalan adventure had faced virtually no opposition; the threats and posturing of the “invasion” force were aimed at provoking a military coup, not taking on a triumphant revolution in full swing. And while Guatemala’s stolid armed forces had acquiesced in ousting Arbenz, the Guatemalan people, by mutual agreement between the opposing parties, were kept well out of the fray. The Cuban situation, by contrast, pitted a well-prepared army and militia against an American strike force, which within seventy-two hours was utterly destroyed.
Kennedy was first advised of the general terms of the plan on 28 January, just days after taking office. In a series of meetings, Kennedy insisted that the overt military involvement in the affair be toned down, in keeping with the political advice he was receiving from the CIA that the Cuban people were ripe for revolt. The CIA’s summaries of White House meetings indicate the tone: The president “stated that he was willing to take the chance of going ahead; that he could not endorse a plan that put us in so openly . . . . He directed the development of a plan where US assistance would be less obvious” (11 March). “The President expressed the belief that uprisings all along the island would be better than to concentrate and strike” (15 March). “The President again indicated his preference for an operation which would infiltrate the force in units of 200-250 and then develop them through a build up” (4 April).29
Two weeks before the landing, the president was still pressing for a genuine “guerrilla’ operation, which he had been led to believe was possible. What he got was altogether different. The task force was manned by some 1,400 Cuban nationals and a still-unknown number of American military and CIA personnel.30 Training had been provided by CIA and U. S. Army Special Forces personnel and the army tank school at Fort Knox. An air wing of seventeen B-26 bombers was maintained by Cuban and American personnel, including six American pilots, “with between 3 and 6,000 hours total time each, and combat time in World War II or Korea or both.” A fleet of naval vessels (thirteen transports and a flotilla of landing craft and small boats) “supported by approximately 40 Naval personnel,” was to deliver the men and supplies-including a tank platoon of five M41 tanks to the Cuban shore. The transports departed Nicaragua’s Puerto Cabezas on Friday, 14 April, escorted by two destroyers, shadowed by a submarine, and within reach of the aircraft carrier Essex (which five days later picked up some of the survivors).31
Although the operation was consistent with JFK’s desire for an activist approach to the Cold War and was an opportunity to implement the much-vaunted doctrine of unconventional warfare, doubts remained. The president’s concerns, however, were systematically countered by the professionals, on technical or political grounds.32 Despite a stated position that the operation could be canceled even at the last moment, the president was faced with enormous pressure from his CIA and military advisers. Even a mid-March military evaluation warning of the plan’s fragility nevertheless stressed that it was really quite unthinkable that the United States back out: “The point of no return has been passed and a decision to abandon the scheme is untenable.” The evaluators warned that the United States, having created the expeditionary force, could disband it only at its peril: “In the event such a decision should be made, a revolt within the assembled force would probably occur with dire consequences both for the US trainer personnel and for US interests abroad. “33 (Similarly, in the 1980s the CIA’s contra advocates floated dire warnings of the effects on Honduras-and the United States-of 15,000 disinherited contras running amok.)
As the fleet of thirteen American ships approached Cuba on the night of Sunday, 16 April, Cuba’s year-old militia patrolled the beaches awaiting the expected invasion. Attacks on Cuban targets by United States B-26 bombers in the previous weeks (destroying over half the Cuban air force) and a rising crescendo of propaganda broadcasts from “Radio Swan” had ensured that the population was on full alert.” As troops boarded thirty-six small boats and landing craft and headed for three beaches near the town of Playa Giron, dubbed “Red,” “Green,” and “Blue,” the operation began to unravel. A contingent of troops reached Red Beach, but lost most of its supplies in doing so. Landing craft at Green Beach grounded on offshore spikes of coral, forcing troops to take to the water; they quickly abandoned the landing there when they were fired upon by militiamen waiting on the beach. Redirected to concentrate forces at Blue Beach, their landing there, too, lost the element of surprise. An American after-action report described the scene: Militiamen in a jeep switched its headlights on, illuminating-then firing on-the approaching flotilla of small boats. The militia in doing so managed to raise the alarm with guards on the dock in Playa Giron: Moments later, lights throughout the town went out when defense forces pulled the plug. Landing-support ships cleared the beach of resistance-for a time-with heavy-caliber machine-gun fire.35
At dawn on 17 April the beachhead established at Blue Beach was under assault by Playa Giron’s militia, as regular troops reached the area and the first Cuban T-33 fighters appeared. Thirteen American B-26s reached the beachhead at dawn, bombing and strafing Cuban forces; four were quickly shot down. The U.S. air defense plan, which depended on putting into operation an airstrip adjacent to the beachhead, failed in the face of Cuban resistance. A Cuban T-33 trainer sank the Rio Escondido and incapacitated the Houston, the largest ship in the fleet, forcing it to go aground, and drove other supply ships to take cover with U.S. destroyers just outside territorial waters.
On the ground, the Expeditionary Force combined high-tech conventional weaponry with unconventional brutality. The support ship Barbara J provided “gunfire support” to assist the unloading of the Houston when it came under attack, while “two . . . tanks which had been sent up from Blue Beach assisted in stopping this attack.” The next night, the crew of the Houston captured a Cuban patrol boat and three militiamen: “Two militiamen were killed and three taken prisoners. The three prisoners were executed because of the logistical problems they made for the survivors.”36
This after-action report also justifies other apparent atrocities by the expeditionary force-including the destruction of an ambulance-by alleging Cuban treachery: “The militia at one time sent an ambulance under a white flag to pick up wounded but tried to sneak two trucks loaded with militia in behind it. The tank destroyed all three vehicles with one round and the machine guns finished the job.” In another case, some militia that were trapped in some buildings came out to surrender but when the CEF [Cuban Expeditionary Force] troops moved toward them they dropped to the ground and opened fire. All this group was then wiped out by the CEF troops.” Whether or not the ambulance was in fact a decoy, or the Cubans surrendering really pulled guns, the net result of the operation was that in three days of fighting the Expeditionary Force took no prisoners.
Although the dawn air strikes on the beachhead area went ahead as scheduled, plans to destroy Cuba’s tiny air force on the ground by means of surprise attacks on air bases (“American pilots will be used in the strikes against each of the six airfields “37) were aborted the night before the landing.38 The policy decision to limit air support for the invasion was to be a matter for recrimination between the Cuban exile community (and the CIA) and the Kennedy administration. Assistance from the U.S. naval forces had never been part of the plan. But even the partial restriction of air strikes from Puerto Cabezas radically changed the invasion scenario. Kennedy’s decision not to provide U.S. air support for the nominally Cuban invasion of Cuba was understandable, if not the timing of his final decisions. The operation’s inevitable failure, however, should have been a foregone conclusion. Cut off from Cuba’s interior by a vast swamp, harried by crack units of Cuba’s 32,000-man army and highly motivated militia, and trained and equipped only to establish a beachhead, the Expeditionary Force was doomed the moment Cuban defenses showed the resolution to resist.
An evaluation of the plan only weeks before had warned of the extreme vulnerability of the operation to Cuban air power, however effective the invaders’ own air cover. Too much depended on complete surprise-an utterly unrealistic scenario-and the complete destruction of Cuban air power: “If surprise is not achieved, it is most likely that the air mission will fail”; and if the air mission failed, the operation would fail: “As a consequence [of a security breach], one or more of Castro’s combat aircraft will likely be available for use against the invasion force, and an aircraft armed with 50 calibre machine guns could sink all or most of the invasion force.” The assessment concluded that “the odds are about 84 to 15 against surprise being achieved in the attack against Castro’s Cuba.” The evaluators urged further consideration of the plan; the CIA, however, was satisfied and proceeded anyway.40
In truth the military (including the CIA) appears to have had little faith in its potential to generate a “people in arms” against Castro. While the CIA and the Joint Chiefs were selling Kennedy a plan to ignite general insurrection in Cuba, what they were planning was neither a guerrilla operation nor a popular uprising. The forces assembled by the United States were intended to shock the Cuban regime into collapse just as Arbenz had been shaken in 1954; air power, tanks, and an amphibious landing were to provide a quick fix of the Cuban malaise.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was a case in point in which doctrine colored judgment and theory became a formula for precipitous action. Although JFK and his cabinet advisers were sold a strangely rose-colored view of the affair by the professionals of the military and CIA, all of the actors, political and military, acted on three basic premises: The Cuban revolutionary regime was ideologically unacceptable in the Western Hemisphere; action to overthrow the Cuban regime was legitimate in the context of the Cold War; and the Cuban people, the militia, and the military were, by the very nature of the regime, disaffected and eager to revolt. The collapse of the venture was not due to the details of policy, the political restrictions on available air power, but to the policy itself. In the words of Clausewitz, “Policy caused the defeats because it was mistaken; it had cast a judgment on the real war that was contrary to the nature that it assumed. “41
While the invasion of Cuba was planned, discussions were underway within the armed forces and within the White House on means to bring the military farther into the sphere of covert or low-intensity intervention, which hitherto had been left largely to the CIA. A 1961 paper, from Walt Rostow’s White House files, records an army Research and Development proposal for a more direct army role in unconventional warfare operations, adapting the doctrine already developed for an army “guerrilla” role in occupied Europe to deal with governments flirting with socialism: “The operation would not be in support of conventional US military operations. The guerrilla war would be political and antiCommunist, for national self-determination. The resistance area would be a base for total US assistance (military, economic, political, psychological).” The idea was that the United States could take out unfriendly governments without the cost or political fuss involved in an invasion. As in the Bay of Pigs operation, conventional forces “would be the psychological club held cocked, prepared to prevent outside intervention. “42
As American forces moved toward Cuban beaches in 1961, another intervention was underway a continent away in the Congo. The “Congo crisis” followed shortly after the Belgian Congo’s independence on 30 June 1960, when elected nationalist Patrice Lumumba took office at the head of a coalition government.43 A mutiny of the Congolese army provided the pretext required for the reoccupation of the country by Belgian paratroops, and the Belgian-orchestrated secession of mineral rich Katanga Province under a government headed by Moises Tshombe. Lumumba received United Nations assistance in restoring government control over most of the country, but the U.N. force failed to move against the Belgians and their allies in Katanga. The Belgians, in turn, gradually withdrew, after assisting in reorganizing the security system in the province, including the initial recruitment of mercenaries. The massive U.S. military action that followed was a direct antecedent to the Angolan intervention, and indeed drew upon some of the same American-and mercenary-manpower.
The American reaction to Lumumba’s nationalist stand, his close relations with nationalist leaders elsewhere in Africa, and his willingness to accept the assistance of the socialist world-including the Soviet Union-prompted U.S. efforts to replace the new government almost before it took office. The Katanga secession issue provided just one peg for American covert intervention, while efforts to take direct action that is, Lumumba’s assassination-proceeded.
The American cable traffic that followed independence reflected the near panic over the prospects of Lumumba’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy: The Congo was to be the first of many countries sacrificed in reaction to the Cuban fiasco. As CIA station chief Lawrence Devlin warned in an 18 August 1960 cable,
EMBASSY AND STATION BELIEVE CONGO EXPERIENCING CLASSIC COMMUNIST TAKEOVER GOVERNMENT WHETHER OR NOT LUMUMBA ACTUALLY COMMIE OR JUST PLAYING COMMIE GAME TO ASSIST HIS SOLIDIFYING POWER, ANTI-WEST FORCES RAPIDLY INCREASING POWER CONGO AND THERE MAY BE LITTLE TIME LEFT IN WHICH TAKE ACTION TO AVOID ANOTHER CUBA44
A National Security Council meeting that same day approved a first stage of a covert action plan to replace Lumumba “with a pro-Western group” (the term used in a 19 August CIA cable); and on 25 August, the NSC’s Special Group (which oversaw covert operations) agreed that “planning for the Congo would not necessarily rule out consideration of any particular kind of activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba. “46
The 1975 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Alleged Assassination Plots first made public the top-level American plan to eliminate Lumumba, concluding that CIA chief Allen Dulles had ordered the murder.47 The report documented that a CIA scientist was sent to the Congo to murder Lumumba with “lethal biological material” (tucked in a diplomatic pouch), although it concluded that Lumumba’s eventual murder was through more conventional means.48 Former CIA officer John S. Stockwell, who was based in the Congo and later headed the CIA’s Angola Task Force, adds a further snippet, a colleague’s anecdote about “an adventure in Lubumbashi, driving about town after curfew with Patrice Lumumba’s body in the trunk of his car, trying to decide what to do with it.” (“He presented this story in a benign light, as though he had been trying to help. . . “) 49 Another author adds: “What he did do with it has not yet been made public.”50
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.75 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.76 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.
The 1958-1959 findings of the President’s Committee To Study the U.S. Military Assistance Program (the Draper Committee) played a major part in forging a global policy view that military assistance should be provided allied forces both to counter “external aggression” and, possibly coining the expression, “internal aggression.”81 The Draper Committee was also partly responsible for later policies that gave military establishments (and by extension, military regimes) primary roles in Third World “development.” Its report on “Military Contributions to Economic and Social Projects” urged the United States to use military assistance to “encourage the use of the armed forces of underdeveloped countries as a major transmission belt of socioeconomic reform and development.”82 In the short run, this meant the use of the military to perform nonmilitary tasks under the rubric of “military civic action.”83 A new Cold War look at foreign assistance had been proposed to the National Security Council in December 1937 by the head of the International Cooperation Administration (ICA), the precursor to the Agency for International Development (AID). Like counterinsurgency, the proposal was a reaction to a Soviet challenge:
Three weeks ago Mr Khrushchev issued a challenge to the US by stating in Moscow: “We declare war upon you-excuse me for using such an expression-in the peaceful field of trade. We declare war. We will win over the US. The threat to the US is not the ICBM, but in the field of peaceful production. We are relentless in this In this case there is clear evidence that Khrushchev has put his machine to work and that this effort is coordinated with Communist China .... The Soviet now has some 2,000 technicians, representing five different nationalities, working in 19 of the uncommitted countries .... The economic battle ground is far more conspicuous than the Vanguard launching pad .... Fortunately, this battle can be made to benefit mankind ....84
The Eisenhower NSC had heard earlier proposals that economic and security assistance should be augmented precisely because the threat of overt aggression had diminished. The Cold Warriors’ concern over the perils of peace were enunciated in a November 1954 NSC paper on “Basic National Security Policy (Suggestions of the Secretary of State),” which warned that “a prolonged period of cold war, with a reduced fear of overt aggression, will severely test the stability and cohesion of the Free World. The United States should stress measures calculated to strengthen the political and economic fabric of the Free World.”85
By late 1954, the State Department under John Foster Dulles saw a general improvement in U.S. security, due to such developments as the “settling of disputes in Egypt, Iran and Trieste” and “the liquidation of the Communist Regime in Guatemala.” But the United States’ principal bulwark against communist domination was seen as “the maintenance of its alliances and the cohesion of the Free World,” and it was precisely this that was jeopardized by the diminishing threat of general war. The November 1954 paper, written during what then might have appeared to be a kind of glasnost (shortly before the Budapest uprising), observed that the Soviet shift to a “soft” line since the death of Stalin is a major new factor. It tends to allay the fears of free-world countries, to relax their efforts to build effective defenses, to foster neutralism, and to divide the free peoples. The ending of hostilities in Korea and Indochina reinforces these trends.
The remedies proposed are now familiar: Military and related programs were to be developed for “internal security” in underdeveloped areas in Latin America and Southeast Asia; a special effort was proposed to develop “sounder economies” in Latin America through economic and technical assistance; and the United States and its allies would necessarily develop a capability for a “flexible” response to aggression “in a manner and on a scale which will not inevitably broaden them into total nuclear war. “87
In 1959, the United States supported Latin American efforts for the creation of the Inter-American Development Bank, and in July 1960, Eisenhower stated as a policy of the United States that means would be sought to accelerate Latin America’s economic development. In September-not least as a response to the Cuban Revolution- Eisenhower informed Latin American foreign ministers that the United States would provide $50() million to establish a Social Progress Trust Fund for development assistance to Latin America. “89 Even the Inter-American Defense Board, the Washington-based forum of American armies set up under Organization of American States auspices in 1941, followed through on 1 December 1960 with its resolution on the “Contribution of the Armed Forces to the Economic-Social Development of the Countries.”90
The Department of State’s Western Hemisphere Division had also, during the latter months of 1960, prepared an integrated policy proposal for military assistance programs to be redirected to encourage military involvement in both internal security and economic development. The “internal defense and development” formula of what was to become classic counterinsurgency doctrine would be adopted fairly intact by the incoming Kennedy administration. State’s Policy Planning Staff paper, “A New Concept for Hemispheric Defense and Development,” dated 15 January 1961, just five days before the inauguration, incorporated many of the political precepts of Kennedy’s subsequent military assistance program for the Americas.’ The principal thrust was that the United States should turn Latin American armies away from the outof-date hemispheric defense role, toward looking inward and getting their own houses in order. Efforts were required to “modernize” Latin American armies so that they could play a progressive development role in undercutting communist subversion (and so that young officers would not be drawn to communist ideologies), while resources dedicated to external defense could be reallocated toward a more efficient military response to the primary concern, internal aggression.
[T]he U.S. should undertake (a) to phase out programs in which Latin American forces are unrealistically associated in continental defense roles and (b) to influence Latin American military leaders towards greater emphasis on maintaining intra-hemispheric peace and contributing to the internal development of their countries . Toward this end, the U.S. should start the process of convincing the Latin American military . . . that their most patriotic role, and their true defense role, lies in executing a concept of defense through development, with all that this entails.92