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U.S. Plans Zaire Mission

November 13, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The announcement of the U.S. decision to participate in principle came after days of consultation with other countries. For more, we go to Susan Rice, the senior director for African affairs on the National Security Council staff. She joins us from the Old Executive Office Building. Thank you, Dr. Rice, for joining us. What exactly did the United States commit to today?

SUSAN RICE, National Security Council Staff: (Washington, D.C.) Well, the United States said that it was prepared in principle to play an important role in enabling this mission to get off the ground. We will provide airlift. We will provide an air control element, ground security, and protection for a limited corridor from the town of Goma to the border in Rwanda. Um, these leverage unique U.S. capabilities, and we are hopeful that with this contribution and that of others, that a mission can get off the ground as quickly as possible.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, when you say “in principle.” What exactly does that mean?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, that means that we are prepared to go forward, provided that we can reach agreement with other countries on the precise mission on the composition of the force that we have the agreement of the countries in the region, which is, of course, essential, and that we’re satisfied that the circumstances on the ground enable deployment of the sort of mission that we are all contemplating.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So none of those three key elements have been worked out?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, there have been extensive conversations with the Canadian partners and many others over the last several days, and we’re confident that in the next day or two that many of those issues will be formally agreed, but the UN Security Council will have to act. It will have to decide the mission to the satisfaction of the participants in the force. I think that will happen, but obviously, one can’t go forward without a clear understanding of what the mission is and whether it can be achieved.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How long do you think this is going to take to get this resolution?

DR. SUSAN RICE: That is being worked as we speak in New York, and I am hopeful that it’ll be resolved in the next day or two.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is the most difficult of those things you just laid out in terms of what has to get resolved before you go forward?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, there are several things, Charlayne. The first instance, obviously, [is that] there’s been some discussions among countries that are considering participating about the mission, whether, for instance, it would be simply the provision of humanitarian relief, or whether it would also include a component that would involve trying to encourage the voluntary repatriation of many of the refugees that are in Zaire.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And where does the U.S. stand on that?

DR. SUSAN RICE: We feel very strongly that both elements are essential, and we’re confident that that will be the view taken in New York by other member states, but that has required some working through. It hasn’t been clear cut from the outside.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because the refugees, many of them are afraid to return for fear of reprisals, right? I mean, most of the refugees are Hutus who committed acts, some of whom committed acts of genocide in Rwanda, right, and they’re afraid to go back?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, I think there’s certainly a clear element of fear, although many Rwandans have–Rwandan Hutus have returned safely to Rwanda over the last couple of years, but there’s also the fact that there is a leadership in these camps that are the former armed forces of Rwanda and militias that have been very violent in–in their intimidation of the refugees and prevented them from going home.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And so, I mean, would that be a part of the mission, to separate the refugees from the militias?

DR. SUSAN RICE: No. There will be no physical separation of the refugees from them, nor any forced repatriation. That would violate a variety of international conventions, but we think that the current situation creates a climate in which the political hold of the leadership on these refugees may be weakened, and with the careful provision of food and other forms of assistance, and the creation of appropriate conditions by the government of Rwanda inside Rwanda, which they are taking steps to create, that an environment can be established where the circumstances will be right for a number of the refugees to go home. That’s certainly our hope.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, explain the situation in terms of the command situation that the Canadians are in overall charge, that the U.S. will have its own command situation.

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, Canada will lead the force, and contribute the force commander. U.S. forces, as is always the case in any mission anywhere in the world, remain under U.S. command and control under the command of the commander-in-chief. However, as been a case in many instances from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War, U.S. forces will be under the temporary operational control of competent foreign commanders.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What does that mean?

DR. SUSAN RICE: That means that they are–they take their immediate instructions consistent with the mission from that foreign commander, but overall, all the time, always remain under national command. In this case, in the case of Canada, which is a strong NATO ally, with which we have very close military to military ties, we are fully confident that the command arrangements will be very satisfactory. And so we see no problem in this case.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And the U.S. force is considering a force of about 4,000?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, the precise numbers haven’t been worked out, Charlayne, but there will be a substantial number of U.S. forces that we anticipate will be in the region in other countries, creating what we call the air bridge, the airlift operation, which needs to have multiple hubs, and then, of course, there will be our component on the ground, in the Goma area. We don’t have a precise estimate of the numbers, but we anticipate perhaps in the neighborhood of about a thousand.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And that’s based on a total of what, about 20,000 from the various other countries?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, the force size remains to be seen. We anticipate more likely in the range of at least ten thousand. Twenty thousand would be probably more than is necessary or contemplated.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you assess the risk to the troops? I mean, the Goma area has been highly volatile, highly charged with fighting with the militia within the regular army, then this one and that one and the other one. How do you assess the risk to troops that are going to be in that area like the U.S. troops you just described?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, that’s–that’s a key question, and that is why we have sent out in advance, two days ago, a military assessment team, as we always do before we deploy U.S. forces. It’s also one of the reasons why it’s important to stress that this is a decision in principle. We’re going to have to look and assess directly, eyeball-to-eyeball, that environment, and make a final decision accordingly.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think the greatest dangers are? Do you think that — well, just what do you think they are?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, this is largely a humanitarian mission. I think it is likely to be viewed as such by the countries in the region, and, in fact, the party’s on the ground, and so we are hopeful that it will be–be quite possible to get in quickly, do a humanitarian mission, facilitate voluntary repatriation, to get out very quickly as well, we hope in the range of about four months time.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And as you said, or as I said, it’s been a highly volatile area. What are the rules of engagement if, you know, some kind of conflict should erupt?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, the rules of engagement will be robust. This is what is known–this will be what is known as a “Chapter 7″ UN mission. That means that the force has all of the authority that it could possibly need to protect itself and its mission. That will involve the use of force, if necessary, and we will not be shy about protecting ourselves or defending the mission.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Will the U.S. be involved in a parallel–or anybody else–in a parallel tract of peacemaking at the same time, or is it just strictly humanitarian, get the people fed?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Charlayne, ongoing for many months, and this will continue–have been very active diplomatic efforts on the part of the United States and many others. We have been very much engaged with the governments of Zaire and Rwanda and others in the region that–to deal with what are the root causes of this problem, and that’s going to continue. The fact that we are engaged or may be engaged in a humanitarian mission over the next several months, in our judgment, only increases the urgency of trying to forge a diplomatic solution to a long-term problem.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Very briefly, why did it take the U.S. so long to make this commitment to get involved?

DR. SUSAN RICE: Well, I think one needs to look at this very carefully. I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that it’s taken us that long. We have been very concerned to move as quickly as possible. On the other hand, this is a very serious undertaking, and it’s essential that we do it right.

DR. SUSAN RICE: We’ve learned from past experience and in other peace operations we’ve learned some valuable lessons, and we thought it essential to apply those lessons and do everything possible to get it right and get it done quickly.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Susan Rice, thank you.

DR. SUSAN RICE: Thank you.