All white people have a watch, but they never have time.
Overseas Campaigns : Democratic Republic of Congo
- Former Zaire -
Katanga (Shaba Province) is situated in the south east of former Belgian Congo.
Endowed with huge mineral deposits, notably diamond, this highly coveted territory of over 40 000 000 inhabitants (in 2004) seceded during the independence of Congo in 1960, before reuniting with the rest of the country three years later.
In 1971, under the regime of Colonel Mobutu, the name of the country was changed from Congo to Zaire.
In 1977, separatist rebels of Katanga masterminded another secession attempt, which was foiled thanks to the action of Zairian armed forces backed by a powerful Moroccan expeditionary force dispatched by His Majesty King Hassan II.
1978, attack of the “tigers”…
It was early May 1978 when the second Shaba War broke out with a massive attack by Katanga rebels of the Front National de Libération du Congo (National Front for the Liberation of Congo) under the leadership of Cuban mercenaries who came in from Angola.
On May 13, 1978, after having captured the aerodrome alongside various military posts, the separatists who called themselves ’’tigers’’, attacked the peaceful mining city of Kolwezi, which is home and workplace to many African natives and to more than three thousand senior workers including Belgian, French and Moroccan nationals.
Zairian forces were rapidly disabled and some of the soldiers took to their feet, while the civilians, unarmed as they were, couldn’t but hide themselves. Only a few Zairian parachutists continued to control an airport situated in the south of Kolwezi.
Massacre of unarmed civilians
Looting, atrocities, barbarism and assassinations became the order of the day. Without any discrimination of colour or nationality, the invaders slaughtered several thousands of innocent civilians, mutilating some of the bodies and piling them up in public buildings.
Meanwhile, in France, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who had been following the situation closely, realized how serious it was and that urgent action had to be take. Immediately, he decided that the massacre of unarmed civilians must stop and personally entrusted this mission to the 2nd Parachutists Foreign Regiment (REP), with base in Corse.
On May 18, 1978, the 2nd REP took off from its Calvi base for a mission to be executed in a land some 6 000 km away.
La Légion s'apprête à embarquer pour Kolwezi
On board the aircrafts, the para legionnaires faced several technical problems: the planes had been designed for 64 paras whereas men of the 2nd REP numbered eighty; the American-made parachutes provided to them by the Zairian army were not suited for a jump with individual equipment and weapons…
"It doesn’t matter! A few knots using ropes and wires would do the trick."
The 700 parachutist legionnaires, dropped in two successive batches, had to face, without an air cover, an enemy force of over 5 000 men, equipped with light armoured cars.
As soon as the first batch landed, fighting started and went on all daylong. Hostages were liberated and there was great exultation.
The second batch was dropped on May 20, 1978, and began to attack separatist rebel groups one after another; those not captured were either killed or fled.
Fighting ended on May 23, 1978; by then all hostages had been liberated and the entire region became controlled by the 2nd REP.
The regiment returned to Calvi after a military parade President Mobutu organised in its honour in the capital, Lumumbashi.
For this triumphant feat of arms, during which eight legionnaires were killed and some twenty others wounded, the 2nd REP was commended in the military order.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Twenty years later…
In 1997, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, leader of Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire), launched a military campaign aimed at overthrowing Field Marshal Mobutu. Thanks to the support of Uganda and Rwanda as well as assistance from the US, he attained this objective on May 17, 1997.
Upon taking power, he decided to change the name of the country from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Thereafter came a period of unrest, characterised by rebellions, occupations and repressions, which witnessed the intervention of troops from five neighbouring countries. In 1999, and later on in 2000, the UN took various firm resolutions; a contingent of over 5 000 men, constituting the UNOMC force, was dispatch to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On January 16, 2001, Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated and his son became the new president. The humanitarian situation continued to worsen as inter-ethnic conflicts became widespread. The UNOMC, overwhelmed by the situation, was in need of help.
It was in June 2003 that the UN decided to launch Operation Artemis, an interim force aimed at providing assistance to the civilian population with respect to meeting their humanitarian needs, while ensuring their safety. This interim force served in the country for a period of four months, during which it relentlessly worked towards the restoration of calm.
France was assigned by the UN to lead Operation Artemis. Her action took place under European Union control.
The mission of French troops, called ‘’Operation Mamba’’, concerned safety and humanitarian aid.
Several dozens of jumbo aircrafts were chartered by France to transport thousands of tonnes of food aid. These aircrafts enjoyed the protection of strike aircrafts and attack helicopters, as well as that of ground-based troops.
The strength of the French contingent as a whole numbered over 1000 men.
Operation Mamba went on in a very satisfactory manner and, having accomplished their mission, the French soldiers withdrew, handing over to the UNOMC, which took advantage of the period of grace to redeploy itself at the borders of the country.