A U.S. troop deployment to Gabon is intended to enable rapid intervention in Congo. The US fears an escalation of violence.
Trump T-shirts are already available in Kinshasa’s markets Photo: ap
It’s Donald Trump’s first new U.S. military deployment abroad: about 80 U.S. troops will be stationed in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, to "be able to support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo," Trump announced in writing Friday. At issue, he said, is the risk of violent demonstrations in response to Congo’s elections.
The first soldiers, "with appropriate combat equipment and military aircraft support," arrived Jan. 2, he said. "Additional forces may be deployed to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Republic of Congo, if necessary."
The U.S. is the first country to hold out the prospect of military intervention in Congo if the crisis there comes to a head. There is a consensus in Washington that this is imminent.
The U.S.’s leading Congo expert, Jason Stearns, summed up the fears on Twitter: "What happens in the next week or two will have a major impact on developments over the next decade."
Neither will Congo’s ruling camp concede electoral defeat, he said, nor can it "rig the election and carry on" as before: "The most likely scenario is a protracted, possibly violent confrontation in the corridors of power and on the streets. It could escalate to armed mobilization in eastern Congo. In this scenario, many civilians are likely to be killed."
"Learn the name of Martin Fayulu."
That leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu won Congo’s elections is considered certain in the United States. "Learn the name Martin Fayulu," Obama’s former U.S. special envoy Tom Perriello tweeted Friday, hailing him as an "anti-corruption reformer who seems to have jumped all hurdles and been elected president despite rigged rules."
Fayulu was heavily promoted by exiled politician Moise Katumbi, who himself was not allowed to run. Katumbi is highly regarded in the United States. A trial in absentia is pending against him in Congo for allegedly recruiting U.S. mercenaries; these are in fact his former bodyguards. In response, among other things, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Congolese rulers.
Gabon hosts a permanent French military base as well as U.S. military trainers. Libreville was already the headquarters of the EU force that secured Congo’s elections in 2006.
A piquant fact: Gabon’s President Ali Bongo secured his power in the 2016 elections with massive manipulation similar to that now feared in Congo. The many deaths during the crackdown on protests in Gabon hardly attracted international attention.