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Cablegate: U.S. Military Training: What the Public in Kisangani

DE RUEHKI #1073/01 3440821
R 100821Z DEC 09




E.O.12958: N/A

REF: 11/12 AF/RSA - Embassy Kinshasa email

KINSHASA 00001073 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) Summary: While local audiences in Kisangani
are supportive of U.S. military training of the FARDC
battalion, they have expressed concerns about the
motivations of the U.S. effort, manner in which
candidates are being vetted, and the nature of follow-on
activities to sustain the battalion's integrity.
Concerns over the training, if left unaddressed, could
harm efforts to improve the civilian perception of the
FARDC. In order to develop a sound public affairs
strategy to convince Congolese audiences of the merits of
the U.S. military training, Embassy Kinshasa and AFRICOM
elements must continue efforts to conduct outreach to
audiences and public-opinion makers. End summary.

2. (U) On November 26-27, APAO visited Kisangani to
assess public views surrounding U.S. military training of
the FARDC Light-Infantry Battalion. The visit followed
meetings by an AF-OSD team to meet with civil society
actors (see ref). APAO continued the discussions, and
reached out to members of other target groups. Meetings
with University of Kisangani administrators and
academics, human rights groups, local journalists, and
leaders for the Kisangani Archdiocese identified clear
themes that illustrate the public view surrounding the
U.S. training activity and overall U.S. role in the DRC.

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What are U.S. motivations?

3. (SBU) While members of the local community were
generally supportive of U.S. and international
initiatives to train the FARDC, they continued to remain
suspicious of U.S. intentions. Several interlocutors
highlighted the 1998 invasion of Rwandan and Ugandan-
supported rebel groups and expressed their belief that
the invasion would not have happened without U.S.
support. Given this belief, many questioned whether the
presence of U.S. military trainers was a harbinger of
another invasion of foreign-backed rebel groups.

4. (SBU) Academics noted their concern that, as past
training had supported Mobutu's hold on power, the U.S.
military training was a potential means to bolster
President Kabila's government, and intentions by the Head
of State to maintain his hold on power. The battalion
would act as the potential tool to secure his power.

5. (SBU) Interlocutors also expressed the view that the
construction of the Kisangani training facility was
paving the way for a permanent Africa Command (AFRICOM)
presence in the DRC, which would advance U.S. efforts to
conduct anti-LRA operations, capture potential Islamic
terrorists filtering in from Sudan, and protect U.S.
economic interests in the region. The theme of
?balkanization? also emerged, as opinion-makers wondered
whether the battalion's training was an attempt to divide
the FARDC, and potentially create a fighting force that
would be exploited by the U.S. and its Rwandan and
Ugandan allies to promote the break-up of the DRC.

Is the training effective?

7. (SBU) Concerning the actual training, several human
rights groups questioned the methodology of selecting
candidates, and assurances that candidates did not have a
dubious track record. Expressing skepticism that there
were too few FARDC candidates who would be suitable for
training, many asserted the training would ultimately
need to bring in candidates who did not meet U.S. vetting
Qneed to bring in candidates who did not meet U.S. vetting

8. (SBU) Interlocutors also revealed concerns about the
training of a single battalion. Audiences appeared to be
unconvinced that a battalion would be able to act as an
effective model for the FARDC, citing the failure of past
initiatives by donors to train Congolese military
personnel. As certain civl society representatives
contested, "didn't foreign militaries train Mobutu's
army? Did that help to professionalize the military?"

KINSHASA 00001073 002.2 OF 003

What happens after the training?

9. (SBU) The most pressing concern expressed by
audiences was what would happen after the training.
Specifically, audiences and opinion-makers were concerned
about how soldiers would be paid and fed following the
training. When told the GDRC would have to take
responsibility for the welfare of the battalion,
audiences immediately expressed concern the government
would be unable to satisfy the unit's future monetary and
supply needs. As a result, any training activity would
be unable to professionalize the FARDC.

USG outreach strategy

10. (U) During a meeting with public opinion-makers and
specific interlocutors, APAO sought to respond accurately
to questions and concerns about the U.S. training in
Kisangani, using Washington TDY visit's meeting with
civil society groups in October (see ref) as a basis for
discussions. However, the significant interest and
concerns raised by key representatives of Kisangani's
community demonstrate the need for a concerted strategy
to engage with local communities and justify the merits
of U.S. military training of the FARDC battalion.
Embassy Kinshasa plans to implement a strategy that (1)
maintains regular contact with Kisangani public opinion
makers to effectively address specific concerns and
publicize positive elements of the training; (2)
facilitates eventual dialogue between the FARDC and civil
society groups to permit an exchange of information
between the two entities; and (3) enhances U.S. public
diplomacy outreach beyond a focus on perceptions of U.S.
military training.

11. (U) Thus far, Embassy Kinshasa has sought to
publicize U.S. public diplomacy efforts by highlighting
visits by U.S. officials such as Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense Vicki Huddleston, embedding
journalists in seminars training FARDC officials on
international humanitarian law, and publicizing medical
donations to the FARDC. While the type of message is
well-received by press and public opinion makers in
Kinshasa, it fails to reach audiences in Kisangani. On
numerous occasions, local public opinion makers informed
APAO they were unaware of past local press reporting of
U.S. initiatives to support and train the FARDC. To
enhance the outreach to Kisangani audiences, PAS Kinshasa
will work with USG trainers and OSC Kinshasa to rapidly
and immediately disseminate any information on the
training to newly established contacts. As part of a
wider outreach effort, we will seek to work with
AFRICOM?s combat camera to provide audiences with footage
of positive aspects of the battalion's training. We will
also work with our colleagues to have sufficient local
press coverage for events connected to the USG training,
such as the January 2010 DIILS training seminar in
Kisangani, as well as the rollout of the upcoming
agricultural project.

12. (SBU) Embassy Kinshasa should also consider ways to
facilitate dialogue between civil society and the FARDC.
Several interlocutors appeared quite pessimistic about
the FARDC?s willingness to respect human rights practices
following the departure of U.S. military trainers. They
also noted their frustration at the lack of information
being provided by the FARDC to local communities on the
progress of military reform. A regular mechanism of
contact between the FARDC and local audiences could
Qcontact between the FARDC and local audiences could
alleviate these frustrations, enhance the level of
confidence of the Kisangani population in the FARDC, and
effectively complement our efforts to professionalize the
Congolese battalion. As a precedent, interlocutors
allude to past seminars in 2005 that brought together
FARDC officials and civil society groups to discuss
military integration. According to them, these
discussions were supposedly received quite positively by
all parties, and helped to build confidence between the
FARDC and civil society.

13. (U) Finally, improvement of the public perception in

KINSHASA 00001073 003.2 OF 003

Kisangani of the military training can be complimented by
overall enhanced public diplomacy. In spite of
suspicions of U.S. policy, there continues to be a keen
appreciation in Kisangani for U.S. cultural values.
Audiences also speak fondly of past U.S. assistance in
the region, such as dormitories at the University of
Kisangani that were constructed by USAID in 1970.
Enhanced public diplomacy outreach will help to establish
the notion that U.S. interest in Kisangani goes beyond
military training. PAS Kinshasa will plan to maintain
regular contact with local audiences and opinion-makers,
disseminate products normally distributed in Kinshasa,
and highlight regular public diplomacy programs for
Kisangani audiences.

14. (U) Comment: Public views surrounding U.S. military
training ranges from highly-sensational to justifiably
concerned. A successful strategy to generate public
support for U.S. training efforts in Kisangani will
require a constant effort to comprehensively explain our
objectives, and pro-actively address concerns raised by
local audiences. Embassy Kinshasa will actively pursue
such an effort. End comment.


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