Clinton Admin OK's Training of RPF
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 14, 1998; Page A01
When Rwandan troops invaded the former Zaire in October 1996, it was a rude jolt for the U.S. officials managing relations with this small central African nation.
Following the 1994 civil war here, during which more than a half-million Rwandans were massacred, the United States had become increasingly close to the Rwandan government and the army that backed it. Rwanda's de facto leader, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, was regarded in Washington as a brilliant military strategist. Hoping to build stability in strife-torn central Africa, Washington pumped military aid into Kagame's army, and U.S. Army Special Forces and other military personnel trained hundreds of Rwandan troops.
But Kagame and his colleagues had designs of their own. While the Green Berets trained the Rwandan Patriotic Army, that army was itself secretly training Zairian rebels. Rwandan forces then crossed into Zaire and joined with the rebels to attack refugee camps where exiled Rwandan extremists were holed up. That touched off a war that eventually toppled Africa's longest-reigning dictator, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko.
Although the United States shared the goals of dismantling the refugee camps and replacing Mobutu, the invasion took Washington by surprise, sources in both countries say. And when the Rwandan forces became involved in massacres and other human rights abuses inside Zaire, now known as Congo, the United States faced a dilemma over how to react that persists to this day.
The story of the U.S. relationship with the Rwandan military illustrates the complications that have occurred when military ties—and, in particular, hard-to-track training operations by the Pentagon's special operations forces—have become a prime instrument of American policy. Since the early 1990s, deployments of special operations forces have been rapidly expanding around Africa, part of a worldwide increase in contacts that are not subject to the civilian and congressional oversight that applies to other foreign military aid programs.
Many of the exercises are funded through a 1991 law that allows deployments if the primary mission is to train U.S. troops. How U.S. troops benefit from this training is not readily apparent. But in many cases special operations troops, of which the Army's Special Forces are the largest element, have instructed foreign armies in how to combat their own domestic insurgencies, or pursued U.S. policy objectives ranging from stopping narcotics traffic to preventing genocide.
In the last two years alone, U.S. special operations troops—mainly Green Berets from the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, N.C.—have taught light infantry or other military tactics to troops in Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. An initial exercise with South Africa is planned for the fourth quarter of this year.
U.S. special operations commanders say that among the purposes of the training, called the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, is to build contacts with foreign military leaders and encourage respect for human rights by foreign armies.
But U.S. access to military officials has not necessarily meant U.S. influence over their actions. In the case of Rwanda, U.S. officials publicly portrayed their engagement with the army as almost entirely devoted to human rights training. But the Special Forces exercises also covered other areas, including combat skills. As a result, U.S. promotion of human rights has been overshadowed by questions about whether Rwandan units trained by Americans later participated in atrocities during the war in Zaire.
A U.N. report released last month charged that elements of the Rwandan army were involved in abuses during the war that "constitute crimes against humanity," including the massacre of unarmed civilians and refugees. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House subcommittee on international operations and human rights, has questioned whether the Pentagon even has tried to find out if Rwandan troops trained by Special Forces were among those who committed the massacres.
In fact, according to Pentagon officials, no such review has been conducted, because none is required by the 1991 legislation. At Smith's request, the Pentagon will provide the names of Rwandan troops trained by Americans since 1994 and after-action reports from their missions. But a Pentagon spokeswoman, Col. Nancy Burt, said that "as a practical matter, it would not be feasible" to vet the Rwandan forces for human rights violations "due to the large number of persons with whom we conduct training."
Despite continued reports of human rights abuses by the Rwandan army, this time inside Rwanda, a new round of Joint Combined Exchange Training between Army Special Forces and Rwandan units is scheduled to begin July 15. It will be the second this year. The Pentagon also plans to send an assessment team to Rwanda in the coming weeks to see whether and how the military training should be further enhanced.
U.S. officials defend the collaboration by arguing that it is wiser to engage with Rwanda to help it develop a human rights culture than to step aside and risk a new descent by the country into chaos.
The effort to support and strengthen the Rwandan military is "a matter of practical policy interests and common sense," a Clinton administration official said. "Assuming diplomacy fails and [ethnic conflict] grows, somebody needs to be in a position to contain it."
Although Rwanda is an impoverished, shattered nation at the far fringes of U.S. national security interests, it is not the prototypical weak client state seeking military help from a powerful patron. Instead, its relationship with Washington is built on a complex mix of history, personal relationships, shared geopolitical objectives, and—not least, some would say—guilt.
The origins of the relationship lie in the Rwandan civil war, which began in 1990 when a rebel force led by minority Tutsi exiles invaded Rwanda from Uganda in an attempt to overthrow the government, led by ethnic Hutus. Kagame, a Tutsi who was then a colonel in Uganda's army, was in a training course at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., when the war began. He dropped out of the course to take command of the rebel army, then later participated in talks that led to a 1993 peace accord.
The peace collapsed in April 1994, when an airplane carrying Rwanda's Hutu president was shot down near Kigali, killing all aboard. Extremist Hutus in the government and army subsequently orchestrated massacres of Tutsis around the country. At least 500,000 people were slaughtered while indecisive Western governments and the United Nations debated what to do.
Finally, a revived rebel movement led by Kagame defeated the government army and took power in Kigali in July. Hundreds of thousands of Hutus, fearing retribution, fled to eastern Zaire, and many of the Hutu soldiers and militiamen involved in the massacres took refuge in their midst.
U.S. officials were deeply relieved that the rebels had halted the massacres, thus ending pressure for a U.S.-led intervention. They also said they were greatly impressed by Kagame's leadership. By the end of the war, some U.S. officials had concluded that Kagame was "a brilliant commander, able to think outside the box," as one put it. "He was a fairly impressive guy," added the official, who met Kagame in the early 1990s. "He was more than a military man. He was politically attuned and knew what compromise was."
Immediately after the war, the United States helped mount a humanitarian operation to assist the refugees in Zaire. Then-Secretary of Defense William J. Perry visited the region, and he too was taken by the new Rwandan leaders.
"When Secretary Perry visited the American troops in Kigali, Goma and Entebbe, he was impressed by how, so close [after] the genocide, these people [the new Rwandan army] could be talking about reconstruction and reconciliation instead of revenge and retaliation," the defense official said.
Still, Rwanda's new civilian government was largely a facade. Kagame, who took the posts of vice president and defense minister, remained in charge. With democratic elections nowhere in sight, a diplomat said, the government was, in essence, a "disguised military dictatorship."
U.S. officials nevertheless focused on the Kagame leadership as one with which they could work to restore order in Rwanda, eastern Zaire and neighboring areas of central Africa.
For its part, the new Rwandan government felt it held the upper hand in its relations with Washington, because its army alone had put an end to the massacres while the West dithered. Analysts here say the Rwandans have played on Washington's sense of guilt about the genocide of 1994, and its stated objective of preventing a recurrence. In deciding how to deal with the lingering problem of the Rwandan refugees and militant exiles in Zaire, for example, "we were [diplomatically] stronger because nobody could argue against us," said Patrick Mazimhaka, a minister to Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu.
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
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."
Special Operations Forces in Africa
For fiscal years 1997 and 1998; some of this year's exercises are planned.
In an effort to increase the U.S. military engagement in Africa, special operations forces, mainly Green Berets, have trained the militaries of 31 out of 54 African nations in such tasks as military tactics, light infantry, de-mining and humanitarian relief. Some of the training takes place under the hard-to-track Pentagon JCET program, which is supposed to be a program to train U.S. troops abroad.
Countries that have received light infantry or other military training:
Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana,
Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique,
Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa (planned), Togo,
Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Countries that have received training for demining:
Angola, Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Namibia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe.
Countries that have received training for a regional peacekeeping force:
Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Troops from these countries would join the State Department-led African Crisis Response Initiative.
Special operations forces have been called in to evacuate U.S. citizens from Liberia, Central African Republic, Congo (the former Zaire) and Sierra Leone.
The Central African Conflict
Sparked by ethnic differences going back to the end of the colonial period, bloody conflict erupted in the Central African nation of Rwanda in 1994 and Zaire (now Congo) in 1996. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the fighting.
85 % Hutu, 14 % Tutsis, 1% Twa (pygmies)
Hutus, who had rebelled against the minority Tutsi monarchy in 1959, formed the government when independence came in 1962 and held onto power until 1994.
1994: In April, Rwanda's Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, is killed when is plane is shot down near Kigali.
The Hutu majority immediately blames Tutsis for the death, and the Hutu-led army and allied militias systematically massacre Tutsis and moderate Hutus. More than 500,000 are killed in two months.
Tutsi exiles in Uganda lead an attack into Rwanda, and local Tutsis join in the fight. In July, the Tutsi force captures the capital.
At least 1.1 million Hutus, fearing revenge from their Tutsi neighbors, flee the country, mostly to Zaire, where they set up refugee camps around Goma and farther south, around Bukavu. Former Hutu soldiers and militiamen responsible for the 1994 massacre mix with the refugees and sometimes terrorize them.
1995: Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali calls on the Hutu refugees to come home and promises no revenge against those not involved in the 1994 massacres.
1996: In October, the Zairian government of Mobutu Sese Seko orders Tutsis, whose ancestors had settled in the eastern part of the country near Rwanda centuries ago, expelled.
Zairian Tutsis, led by Laurent Kabila, attack Hutus in refugee camps along the Rwandan border. The Zairian Tutsi rebels, backed by Rwandan soldiers, capture Goma.
Zairian and Rwandan troops clash across the border.
Tutsi rebel forces in Zaire bombard a refugee camp near Goma, prompting about 700,000 Hutu refugees to stream back to Rwanda. Others, including the radicals responsible for the 1994 massacres, move deeper into Zaire.
1997: Tutsi rebels move westward across Zaire, capturing town after town as the ill-disciplined Zairian army retreats. In May, Kabila's forces capture Kinshasa, and Mobutu flees to Morocco.
Kabila declares himself leader of the country, which he renames Congo.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has forged new military contacts with countries around the world, using special operations forces such as the Green Berets and Navy SEALs without White House and congressional oversight. This series of articles will examine how those deployments have grown, how they have influenced U.S. policy and how they have led to U.S. training of foreign armies accused of corruption and human rights violations.
SUNDAY: A 1991 law has enabled special operations forces to establish programs in more than 100 countries while avoiding many restrictions placed on other U.S. military assistance. Although designed with the narrow intention of training U.S. troops, the law has helped make America's premier soldiers unofficial diplomats in remote corners of the world, often bringing them into conflict with broader aims of U.S. policy.
MONDAY: Special operations forces are training every army in Latin America, exempt from White House and congressional restrictions on aid. The forces have prompted questions from U.S. and Latin American critics about whether such unmonitored involvement with the region's militaries is appropriate when fledgling democratic governments are struggling to consolidate civilian rule.
TODAY: The story of the U.S. relationship with the Rwandan military illustrates the complications that have occurred when training operations by the Pentagon have become a prime instrument of American policy. A program advertised as promoting human rights has been overshadowed by questions about whether Rwandan units trained by Americans later committed atrocities.