U.S. Faces Surprise, Dilemma in Africa
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Said a diplomat here, "I think the Americans were terribly manipulated by this government and now are almost held hostage by it."
Lt. Col. Frank Rusagara, secretary general of the Rwandan Defense Ministry and the top policymaker for military development, described the army as a reflection of Rwandan society: in flux as it tries to establish a brand new set of core social values. "Among us there are orphans of genocide victims," Rusagara said. "Among us there are sons and daughters whose parents actively were in the genocide."
"Over a period of time, we've got to establish democratic institutions and values for the military to protect," said Rusagara, who returned in April from three months of defense resource management training at the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Calif. "So I think in Rwanda, we're evolving."
Rusagara presides over a military administration that started from scratch in 1994 as a national entity. The army inherited little from the Hutu-led armed forces that was worth saving. After all, much of the old army, especially the presidential guard, perpetrated the genocide against the Tutsis, or stood by.
The U.S. military engagement here began in 1995 as an effort to help the Rwandan army with its task of reinvention, both of itself and of the nation's power structure. U.S. officials said they wanted the former rebel army to become a professional force that would support the principles of the democracy that Rwandan officials say they aspire to create.
Hundreds of soldiers and officers were enrolled in U.S. training programs, both in Rwanda and in the United States. Rwandan officers went to the United States to study military justice, defense resource management and law of war and human rights. Scores of Rwandans were trained for land-mine detection and disposal under the U.S.-funded National De-mining Office, which was up and running in early 1996.
When asked in a December 1996 congressional hearing about the kinds of training the United States provided to Rwanda, Ambassador Richard Bogosian, the Clinton administration's coordinator for Rwanda, said the training dealt "almost exclusively with the human rights end of the spectrum as distinct from purely military operations."
But some Rwandan units were getting U.S. combat training, as well. In a JCET program conducted by U.S. Special Forces, Rwandans studied camouflage techniques, small-unit movement, troop-leading procedures, soldier-team development, rappelling, mountaineering, marksmanship, weapon maintenance and day and night navigation.
And while the training went on, U.S. officials were meeting regularly with Kagame and other senior Rwandan leaders to discuss the continuing military threat faced by the government from inside Zaire.
Hutu militia forces driven into Zaire had regrouped and by late 1995 were launching raids across the border into Rwanda from the camps in eastern Zaire, where more than 1 million Rwandan refugees still languished. Efforts by the United Nations to send the refugees back home were repeatedly blocked by the Hutu militants, who depended on U.N.-supplied food and fuel.
U.S. officials agreed that the camps were a problem requiring a solution, and had discussed several options with Kagame, including air strikes to hit at the extremist bases, sources said. Information about the camps was exchanged between the two countries, a Western military analyst said.
Kagame himself visited Washington in early August 1996 to discuss the situation with senior Clinton administration officials. He later said that he had been seeking solutions from Washington, but left disappointed. U.S. officials said Kagame had warned that the camps in Zaire had to be dismantled and had hinted that Rwanda might act if the United Nations did not. They said they expected that Kagame might try something, but did not know when he would do it and what form it would take.
Meanwhile, from July 17 to Aug. 30, a U.S. Army Special Forces team from Fort Bragg instructed Rwandan army soldiers in small-unit leader training, rifle marksmanship, first aid, land navigation and tactical skills, such as patrolling. In September, dozens of other Rwandan soldiers received training under the International Military Education program.
Clearly, the focus of Rwandan-U.S. military discussion had shifted from how to build human rights to how to combat an insurgency. In 1995, a diplomatic observer said, Kagame's attitude seemed to be, "I want [the army] to get rid of that bush mentality. I want to teach them by sending them" for training.
"But then," the diplomat said, "when the infiltration [from the Zaire camps] started and you have the [Zaire] war, it got all out of hand."
Kagame's alliance with the Pentagon was not the only one he nurtured after 1994. He also remained in close touch with Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, a longtime comrade. With Museveni's support, Kagame conceived a plan to back a rebel movement in eastern Zaire. He hoped to clear out the Rwandan refugee camps, crush the exiled Hutu militias and deal a blow to Mobutu, one of Africa's most corrupt rulers. Uganda contributed some troops and materiel to the war effort, and Angola, Zambia and several other African states later joined in. Laurent Kabila, an aging former Marxist revolutionary, was recruited to head the rebels, who tried to keep their connections to Rwanda and Uganda hidden.
The operation was launched in October 1996, just a few weeks after Kagame's trip to Washington and the completion of the Special Forces training mission. But according to sources in both governments, the Clinton administration did not learn of the infiltration by Rwandan troops and officers or the extent of their ambitions until the fighting was well underway. Two sources in Kigali described the United States as angry and embarrassed at being surprised.
"I wouldn't say they pulled the wool over our eyes," a U.S. defense official said. "They acted in what they perceived to be their national interest." He compared it to Israel's frequent incursions into neighboring countries without advance U.S. knowledge.
Once the war started, the United States provided "political assistance" to Rwanda, a Western diplomat said. An official of the U.S. Embassy in Kigali traveled to eastern Zaire numerous times to liaise with Kabila. Soon, the rebels had moved on. Brushing off the Zairian army with the help of the Rwandan forces, they marched through Africa's third-largest nation in seven months, with only a few significant military engagements. Mobutu fled the capital, Kinshasa, in May 1997, and Kabila took power, changing the name of the country to Congo.
U.S. officials deny that there were any U.S. military personnel with Rwandan troops in Zaire during the war, although unconfirmed reports of a U.S. advisory presence have circulated in the region since the war's earliest days. Rwandan officials also bristle at the suggestion that they would have needed any U.S. military support.
Still, U.S. military training continued inside Rwanda during the war. A small contingent of Special Forces land-mine-removal trainers was in the country even as Rwandan troops were moving into Zaire in early October. Small Mobile Training Teams in military civil affairs and public information were in Rwanda in early November 1996. Another contingent of mine-removal trainers was in the country for much of December.
Another mobile training team and a mine-removal mission came to Rwanda in early 1997 as well, although the mobile training mission was aborted because no Rwandan troops were available. Rwandan army "operational requirements precluded training," according to a Pentagon chronology. The mission was to have begun on March 15 -- the day that Rwandan-led forces captured Kisangani, Zaire's second-largest city, in one of the few actual battles of the war.
The United States favored Mobutu's overthrow. But the Rwandan campaign inside Zaire was often brutal. Although Rwandan and Congolese officials have said their only targets were former Rwandan soldiers and gunmen, U.N. investigators, private human rights groups and journalists have collected considerable evidence, including first-hand accounts from witnesses and soldiers, that Rwandan officers and troops participated in massacres of civilians. For example, rebel soldiers and witnesses have said that two Rwandan officers commanding Zairian rebels ordered the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Rwandan refugees who had gathered near Mbandaka, a town in northwestern Zaire, on May 13, 1997, near the end of the war.
The U.N. commission later formed to investigate wartime abuses was thwarted by Kabila's government and eventually abandoned its probe in frustration. Nevertheless, its members did gather testimony about the Mbandaka massacres. Its report concluded that "these killings violate international humanitarian law and, to the extent that Rwandan officers were involved, Rwanda's obligations under international human rights law."
of the Rwandan army's human rights record say its abuses did not end with the war in Zaire. They cite periodic revenge killings in Rwanda, directed against Hutus suspected of participating in the 1994 massacres. Other observers cite evidence that the human rights record is improving, including a recent slackening in violence against civilians and the prosecution of military figures for abuses.
Now conflict appears to be rising again as the Hutu extremist militants who have returned to Rwanda following the war in Zaire mount a low-grade insurgency that has spread from Ruhengeri prefecture in the northwest -- the extremists' traditional heartland -- to areas close to Kigali.
The conflict is variously described as a low-grade civil war or a terrorist threat. A diplomat here said the conflict has sent the Rwandan army back to some of its harsh ways. In the northwest region where the insurgents had been strongest, the army's strategy is to "systematically reduce the male population," the diplomat said, speaking anonymously.
Despite the concerns, a Pentagon team will travel to Rwanda in the coming weeks to assess how the army is coping with the insurgents and what kind of assistance the military may need, a U.S. defense official said. The range of possibilities being considered includes combat and counterinsurgency training, conducted by U.S. Special Forces or by private contractors, administration officials say.
U.S. officials clearly still see Kagame and his army as a partner, in spite of all that has happened in the last two years. "In terms of determination, you can't underestimate them," the diplomat said. "In terms of discipline, they're very disciplined. In terms of human rights? It's a good-weather project. They apply it in peacetime, but now they have a war."
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