This Week in History: August 15-21

25 Years Ago: Leaked Pentagon Report Reveals US Role in Zaire Invasion

On August 16, 1997, the Washington Post released a leaked account of an eight-page internal Pentagon report that exposed the fact that U.S. military personnel had worked in Rwanda for the previous three years to train the forces used in the successful invasion of Zaire, leading to the overthrow of the Mobutu regime.

Beginning in January 1995, hundreds of Rwandan soldiers were trained in combat tactics, military management, disaster relief, team operations, mine clearance, and military and civilian policing by U.S. advisers wearing military fatigues. In July and August 1996, US Green Berets conducted two months of counterinsurgency training for selected Rwandan troops.

Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame [Photo by Veni Markovski / CC BY-SA 4.0]

Two months later, the Rwandan army launched cross-border operations against Rwandan Hutu guerrillas based in refugee camps in Zaire. The rout of the Hutu-led militias paved the way for the full-scale invasion of Zaire by Zairian exiles and Tutsi soldiers under the nominal leadership of Laurent Kabila, which resulted in the overthrow of Mobutu’s regime.

In June, Deputy Prime Minister Paul Kagame, the strongman of the Rwandan regime, admitted that his forces had played the main role in organizing and mobilizing Kabila’s rebel army, with the Rwandan army providing virtually all Kabila officers. The Job The report confirmed that the US government sponsored the overthrow of Mobutu, whose regime had become a liability for imperialist interests, by training Rwandan soldiers who then trained and even commanded Kabila’s forces.

Kagame himself received American military training at Fort Leavenworth prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which ended when Kagame’s predominantly Tutsi military force invaded Rwanda from bases in Uganda – a model for the invasion Zaire later from bases in Rwanda.

The US government intervened in Central Africa, taking advantage of the ethnic conflicts produced by a century of colonial and postcolonial oppression and exploitation. A manager told the Job that the Clinton administration was providing weapons and training to Rwanda as part of the creation of a “zone of influence”, which included Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Angola, all of which supported the Zairian “rebellion”. Rwanda was a “target of opportunity”, he said.

Kabila’s rise to power and Mobutu’s ousting were hailed by a number of radical and Stalinist tendencies in the middle class as a triumph of “armed struggle” and even as a people’s revolution. But the Job report showed that Kabila was little more than a stooge of US imperialism.

50 years ago: Morocco’s king narrowly avoids coup attempt

On August 16, 1972, King Hassan II of Morocco was nearly assassinated in an attempted coup within the military. It was the second attempt by members of the Moroccan army to depose the autocratic leader, with the first attempt coming when armed opponents stormed his birthday party in July 1971.

The second attempt occurred as Hassan was returning to Morocco from France where he had met President Georges Pompidou. As the king crossed Moroccan airspace, his plane came under fire from Moroccan Air Force planes.

Rebel fighters heavily damaged the King’s plane, forcing it to land. According to reports of the incident, after several people on board the plane were injured, the pilot telephoned the rebels stating, “The tyrant has been killed! and begging them to cease fire.

While Hassan was actually unhurt, the rebel pilots were fooled by the radio calls and broke off their attack. The king’s plane was then able to land at Rabat airport when the loyal forces placed the king under their protection.

Kenitra air base, from where the coup was launched, was surrounded by loyalist forces shortly after news of the assassination attempt reached other bases. Hundreds of soldiers in Kenitra would be arrested but in the following days many would be acquitted of involvement in the coup.

Forces loyal to King Hassan of Morocco in the fighting of 1971

The coup was led by General Mohamed Oufkir, Morocco’s Defense Minister. Initially, it was surprising that Oufkir was behind the plot as he had played a key role in suppressing the previous coup in 1971 and defending Hassan.

In previous years, opposition to Hassan grew among military officers and other senior Moroccan government officials. In 1965, Hassan dissolved the country’s parliament, then only three years old, and granted himself full dictatorial powers.

After the Air Force coup, Hassan began a purge of disloyal officers. Of 32 Air Force members found guilty of taking part in the coup, 11 will be executed. Among them was a colonel, Mohamed Amekrane, who tried to flee to Gibraltar but was turned back by the British authorities.

Oufkir was never tried, but was found dead days after the coup from multiple gunshot wounds. The Moroccan government has officially declared his death a suicide. Members of his family will be arbitrarily imprisoned and will not be released until 1991.

75 years ago: Military accident triggers massive explosion in Cadiz, Spain

On August 18, 1947, a massive explosion at a military base near Cadiz, Spain, set off a chain of fires and other explosions that devastated the industrial port city, killing hundreds and affecting the residents of the working class who have survived for years.

A report by a contemporary Spanish news agency, quoted in the American press, reported scenes of vast destruction and confusion. According to American media, the Spanish agency “estimated today that more than 500 people were killed and thousands injured in a series of explosions of torpedoes and underwater mines that devastated entire sections of the city port of Cadiz all night”.

A scene of destruction in Cadiz

Firefighters battled 300 or more blazes across the city, according to the report, as explosive materials meant the fires were continuously reignited, even after they were initially extinguished.

It soon became apparent that the Base de Defensas Submarinas (Underwater Defense Base) in Cádiz was the site of a huge ammunition arsenal. This included approximately 1,737 sea mines, torpedoes and depth charges (out of a total of 2,228 spread over two depots), containing 200 tons of TNT and amatol.

The fascist military dictatorship of General Francisco Franco reacted nervously to the disaster, accusing the British Broadcasting Corporation and other media of carrying out a “smear campaign” with their coverage of the explosion.

There was speculation that the explosion could have been linked to increased resistance and anti-fascist activities by partisan fighters. This was fueled by Franco, whose regime claimed some of the ammunition was of Russian rather than Spanish origin. Recent studies, however, have indicated that the waters off Cadiz were extensively mined during World War II, in anticipation of a possible Allied invasion, creating fertile conditions for such a disaster.

The official death toll was 150, with over 5,000 injured, although both were likely a substantial underestimate. Explosions and fires hit a retirement home, a children’s orphanage and several factories. The shipyards, the city’s largest employer, were destroyed. Economic activities in Cadiz would be impacted until the 1950s.

The Franco regime’s response expressed fear that the explosion could become the focal point of longstanding opposition, amid a wave of labor struggles across Europe and internationally in the years that followed World War II. He had only consolidated his power during the Spanish Civil War, following the betrayals of the working class by the Stalinist Communist Party.

100 years ago: Inflation and social crisis ravage Germany

On August 15, 1922, the German government of Joseph Wirth notified the Belgian, British, French, and Italian governments that it could not make its $900,000 payout of war reparations negotiated under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. As the reason, the German government cited the steep fall in the value of the mark, which had been falling since June 1921, after the country’s first payment to the Allied imperialist powers, which was to be made in hard currency. The non-payment sparked an international crisis, with French imperialism threatening to seize German coal mines and forests as reparation payments.

German Chancellor Joseph Wirth

But just as significantly, rising prices have made life unbearable for Germany’s working class and middle class. In August, the price of milk had risen by 60% in three days and the government announced that freight rates would increase by 50% in October. The Berlin City Council was forced to issue an ordinance setting housing rents in the city at 450% of pre-war prices. German state employees had asked the Wirth government, according to the New York Times, “the highest salary increase ever sought in Germany.” Berlin city employees received a cost-of-living allowance of 1,000 marks for the month in addition to their usual salary.

The inflation marked the beginning of what was to become a pre-revolutionary situation in Germany that would culminate in the failed revolution of August–October 1923, an event of world historic significance.

The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in August 1922 saw the revolutionary potential of inflation, which was to increase by several orders of magnitude in the months to come. The daily newspaper of the KPD Die Rote Fahne (The red flag) wrote:

“Wage struggles must be waged vigorously. The worker must be supplied with food at reasonable prices. The export of foodstuffs and the import of luxury items must be stopped. The hoarding of currencies by industrialists and the flight of capital from Germany must be stopped. The burden of war must be lifted from the shoulders of the workers and imposed on the capitalist class. The struggle against the madness of the Treaty of Versailles must be begun…control must be taken by the workers of the stock exchanges, the banks, the import and export food traffic and the food distribution, the factories and the mines; seizure of materials and gold values; the workers take care not to suppress reaction; the closest alliance with Soviet Russia. Already acute hunger and disease stalk the German proletariat.

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