Small Wars Journal

The Inside Story Of How The U.S. Acted To Prevent Another Rwanda

Sun, 12/22/2013 - 11:22am

The Inside Story Of How The U.S. Acted To Prevent Another Rwanda by Hayes Brown, Think Progress.

The Central African Republic had finally exploded. After months of signs that the country was a powder keg, with dire warnings of impending doom from the United Nations and human rights observers, outright clashes ignited the capital, Bangui, in early December. Hundreds were killed. Thousands more fled their homes, those who had not already done so in the eight months since the crisis first began. For a period, it looked as though the world was preparing to sit idly by yet again as another mass atrocity was perpetrated on the continent of Africa.

Two days later, it was like a switch had been thrown. The president of the United States asked for the people of the CAR for calm, speaking to them directly through the Internet and radio. The president shook $100 million loose from the federal budget, to purchase much-needed supplies to the African peacekeepers struggling to stem the killing and airlift in reinforcements. And on Thursday, Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, announced yet another $15 million in humanitarian aid and the pending presence of U.S. military advisers to assist the African Union’s forces in restoring peace…

Read on.



Mon, 12/23/2013 - 4:16pm

I read the linked article yesterday and just wondered if anyone from outside 'The Beltway' knew what was going on now, let alone beforehand. It was all too obviously a piece of PR spin, complete with a photo of a US diplomat standing in front of a group of smiling African soldiers - one wonders how long she spent with them.

Elsewhere it is easy to discover that Bangui is not the CAR, but 75% of all African and French troops are there. The CAR is a nation-state in name only. See the excellent backgrounders on the SWC thread and this one just arrived:…

What really puzzled me was that someone persauded President Obama to speak directly to the people of CAR via the Internet and radio. I have m' doubts there is much public access to the internet. Wikipedia suggests there is very little mobile / cell phone coverage outside Bangui; radio looks more promising with 280k plus radios. Did the USA gain local radio station agreement to broadcast the message or were external braodcasting options used, VoA, French radio etc? Leaving aside very few CAR nationals speak English.

Anway why would the CAR audience listen to him anyway, given the lack of US involvement in country and the apparent public approval of the French presence?

Well it made sense inside 'The Beltway', consciences are clear - it was the USA that stopped another Rwanda.


Wed, 12/25/2013 - 2:16am

In reply to by Luddite4Change

Glad to hear that some of those students actually ended up doing something with their PME. Back in the day, we were just selling America and few of us saw anything coming out of the programs. Most of our 100 or so students a month (collectively from 7 African countries) would end up being sent back with a certificate of completion (preventing them from being executed as an embarrassment to the State).

Then of course there were others that successfully went on to become “educated dictators”. What we did find was these students were of value as contacts gauging the pulse of an unstable State. The vetting process today almost works and the right people are being educated and accounted for. Can’t say that for Sub-Sahara however and my last trip this year to Brazzaville and Bamako confirms my suspicions.


Tue, 12/24/2013 - 3:52pm

In reply to by Stan


I was in Bangui several years ago at a reception for former IMET students, most of which had been products of the 80's program you speak of. It was quite a large and impressive group with members who had risen highly not only in a "fluid" military, but also in civil service and the private sector.

It's kind of off subject, but IMET and other types of US based training (including military, but also beyond that) needs to be looked in the same manner as venture capital. It's high risk so you keep the financial exposure small, and most of the investment will have zero (somtimes even negative return) return, but you get enough high returns to make the bets worthwhile overall. Unfortunately, the USG tends to not execute sufficient follow up to check on the investment, so we might as well have just thrown the taxpayers money out the window.


Tue, 12/24/2013 - 3:00am

In reply to by Luddite4Change

In over a decade I think we visited places like Bangui and Yaoundé a total of 35 times in both USMM and DAO capacities.

That being said, there was little money nor interest and the problems that those people brought (as students in CONUS) were not worth the trouble. So, we had no functional presence as of the mid-80s. If we were seriously interested in the CAR, I didn’t see it back then. No wonder then why we didn’t see this potential genocide coming !

I doubt a scant 2-year tour in a Sierra hole with countless dissertations (extremely long and worthless message traffic to DC) would have sufficed for Clarendon and Foggy Bottom to have foreseen today (And now that we are all able to buy those cables on eBay or read them on the internet, makes them even more worthless as intel). That and the manner in which most DOS officers dismiss military and expat intel during country team meetings… we were doomed to fail.

Yep, comms are needed and a NIACT Immediate is generally enough. I could raise a phone patch on an HF via Ascension or my URC 101 via EUCOM. We never used our NSA-provided STUIIIs (wry grin) however… too complicated for the day !

When it comes to MSGs and appropriate (authorized) manning levels, that’s a mixed and expensive bag of tricks for such a small embassy. Standing behind ballistic glass and operating magnetic doors by day and completing barely legible security violations by night is hardly security. A 13-man DAO is not necessarily a good thing either, and the IIRs get really hard to take when the author doesn’t even speak basic French in Sub-Sahara.

Don’t get me started on Congressional visits LOL !


Mon, 12/23/2013 - 8:09pm

In reply to by Stan


The only way, I believe, to achieve "expertise to drive a logical outcome" is to have a functioning presence in country X, that also gets to having accurate information on what is occurring in the country (aka intel). In order to be functioning, the Ambassador and his charges need to have the ability to communicate securely with the masters back in the Beltway. This does not mean that you need "boots on the ground", but it does mean that you need to fund the appropriate security, facilities, and under right appropriate personnel policies.

Ditto on the Flag and Senior FSO's, and I'd add some select members of the Legislative Branch.

100M or even the 700M that I had at my disposal in the 80s and 90s would not fix Rwanda then and not CAR now. We lack engagement because the cold war is over and a tiny land-locked country with little to offer is not enticing enough for the American people nor USG. No surprises there !

You can’t prevent something you know little about. We suck at Africa and we have no investment other than appeasing our European partners with airlift. Rwanda then, CAR now.

Do you seriously think an MSG is going to change things ? Why ? Modern comms ? How about old fashion real intel work on the ground with the locals ? If the embassy does an evac, it’s because the insurance costs for all those souls is far more costly than a slight black eye. Done it 4 times and it doesn’t get better. All the gear in the world won’t save your alpha when you are not authorized to return fire. DUH !
What difference does it make if the embassy and DAO are fully manned ? Underfunded ? We do that all the time. Under strength ? We do that to this day. What’s the point ?
Investing in preventing something we know nothing about is anything but cheap. We do not need an engagement with boots and equipment in a country that will go Tango Uniform with the next dictator. Providing resources so they can do what ? Kill their own civilians ? Done that too bro !

I love watching Flag officers and Senior Foreign Service Os doing the passport check at the airports of Africa. What’s the deal with a stamp at Customs ?

The oversight I see in order is expertise driving a logical outcome. Please don’t spend my taxes on a waste of time simply becuase people are dying in a country where we have no interest, in a dead election year, and in the name of Rwanda.


Sun, 12/22/2013 - 9:54pm

Rather than patting ourselves on the back that we watched the CAR deteriorate and now have to spend at least $100M on yet another UN PKO, perhaps our time would be better spent in reflection on how our lack of engagement with the country permitted the situation to develop in the first place.

Think of what a portion of the $100M+ that we are going to spend on “reaction” could have bought us in terms of prevention:

US Embassy: Current facility didn’t meet even pre-9/11 security requirements, did not have a Marine Security Guard Detachment (unit was withdrawn in the early/mid 90’s), nor had modern communications equipment which all told forced the evacuation of the Embassy in late 2012.

Personnel: Embassy was manned by four US State Department personnel, some of whom were serving as temporary duty at any given time. Embassy coverage for all other US government departments and agencies were provided in a non-resident status from other embassies in the region. Most of these supporting offices were themselves underfunded, under strength (the servicing Defense Attaché Office, for instance, has been at 100% strength for only 9 of the last 48 months and at an average of 50% strength or less for most of the last 18 months), and in many cases covered by personnel on long term TDY from the US.

The failure to invest in prevention and engagement, which would have cost but a fraction of what we have currently put on the table, is the story that we should be focusing on. To have had next to no engagement in a country were US troops have been deployed in an “equipped for combat” status due to a failure to provide resources is in my mind unconscionable.

The other question that is worth asking, is what is the value added of the US Ambassador to the UN doing adventure tourism at the airport in Bangui? Wouldn’t it be a better allocation of resources to re-establish a US presence in the county? The US pays 27% of the budget for UN PKO’s, a little engagement and on the ground oversight of the taxpayers funds might be in order.