About our Embassy in Bangui. Months before the coup attempt, some bean counters had decided to terminate the US marine guard detail there and at several other smaller embassies. The Pentagon, likewise, assigned no permanent Defense Attache, and we had no presence of the agencies with no names. The much ballyhooed Clinton “budget surpluses” had come about by stripping our national defenses. Our office proposed closing the embassy in CAR among several others noting that otherwise we merely provided would-be terrorists and kidnappers easy victims. For reasons of political correctness our suggestion to close several African posts did not prosper.
So, of course, precisely in countries where we faced significant threats, we had no security of our own, and depended entirely on local forces. In CAR we could not count on those local forces to do the right thing. The Embassy’s defense consisted of walls, barbed wire, and a few dusty shotguns left behind by the last Marine security detachment. To add to the weirdness, we had an Ambassador, a former USAID officer, who spoke no French; as soon as the situation went belly-up, she completely froze. Effective control of the Embassy passed to the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), an African-American woman who spoke almost no French, had a visceral hatred of European men, and, I suspected, held ardent racist views….
When the coup attempt got underway, the DCM contacted the President of CAR, through an interpreter. She had a bizarre conversation in which she asked for his help protecting the Embassy, and he asked her help protecting the Presidential palace. Unfortunately for the DCM, some poor junior officer wrote up the conversation very accurately.
It gets better.
By the way, the French have a long history of intervention in their former African holdings. While the Diplomad doesn’t give a date, it appears to be the 1996-97 rounds of unrest during which this story took place.