Confusion Mars U.S. Effort to Aid Rwandans : Africa: Despite promise of ‘immediate and massive’ relief, only a trickle has reached exhausted refugees.


A week after President Clinton announced an “immediate and massive” increase in aid to alleviate the suffering of the 1.2 million Rwandan refugees here, deliveries of American relief supplies have barely begun and the operation appears marred by woeful confusion and delay.

Despite a growing buildup of supplies in distant depots, only a trickle of emergency aid sent under “Operation Support Hope” has reached the sick and exhausted refugees. Doctors say a growing number are now dying from lack of water, as well as from a fierce cholera epidemic and outbreaks of measles and meningitis.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry is due to arrive Sunday for a visit here and at the operation’s airlift staging site at Entebbe International Airport near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. One of his missions will be to sort out an American operation that has had virtually no impact here.


“We’ve been screaming up the chain of command to say get your act together,” one angry U.S. officer said. “It’s been a very frustrating experience.”

A senior U.N. official here said the American effort has been disappointing so far. “We keep getting a lot of promises, but then we keep waiting,” he said. “We need the Americans. We’re desperately, urgently waiting for them. But right now, all we’ve got is promises.”

Only 20 U.S. military flights and 75 soldiers and civilian contractors have landed at Goma’s chaotic airport so far, including an 18-member airlift support team that flew in Thursday. By contrast, Doctors Without Borders, the largest of the non-governmental groups working here, has posted a staff of 120.

The U.S. military has brought about 71 tons of humanitarian aid, including oral rehydration salts, high-protein biscuits and medicine. Other flights have carried rice and cooking oil. More than 300 tons of relief supplies from other groups pass through the airport each day.

The U.S. forces have also brought a large forklift and 15 other vehicles, including Humvees, pickup trucks, two firetrucks and a motorcycle.

But the initial troops were surprisingly ill-prepared. Most have slept in two borrowed tents inside the French Foreign Legion compound at the airport. They have only three satellite phones, including one that arrived Thursday. Many of the TV networks camped nearby have more.


Air Force Capt. David Burgess of the 436th Airlift Control Squadron at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware arrived with neither a uniform nor a razor. He was in Nairobi, Kenya, when he was ordered to assess needs at the airport here. He quickly hitched a ride on a relief plane flown by Ukrainian pilots.

“I’ve been here seven days,” he said, scratching his stubble. “I told them six days ago what I needed. That’s my job here. I need 30 people and equipment. And I’ve waited and waited and waited.”

He has spent the week driving a forklift at the airport, and slept in it one night as well. “I’m a C-5 pilot,” he added. “Get the picture?”

About 420 American troops have been deployed at Entebbe. Twenty who arrived Thursday are to assess a possible support role at Kigali, the largely empty capital of Rwanda, according to U.S. Army Col. Robert Mirelson, spokesman for the military operation here.

The U.S. airlift began Sunday when three Air Force planes parachuted seven tons of food and clothes near the Katale refugee camp. But the airdrop proved more an embarrassment than a help since only one-third the promised supplies were dropped, they included such unusual items as chocolate and mittens, and the pallets nearly hit a Zairian school and a U.N. helicopter.

Subsequent American aid has been just as disappointing, relief workers say.

Despite widespread publicity about the arrival of two water purification units early this week, for example, the first delivery of 15,000 gallons of clean water produced by the Americans didn’t start until Wednesday. About 24,000 gallons were produced Thursday, or enough for about 20,000 refugees for the day.


U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Carl Brosky, who heads a 42-member team of soldiers and civilians who have set up camp here, said it would take up to another week to hook up eight huge “super-chlorination” units and achieve full production of 500,000 gallons a day.

Since relief groups estimate the refugees need five liters of water, or just over a gallon, each day to survive, that will be enough for only one-third of the refugee population. And that assumes the water gets to them.

Since the United States didn’t deliver any tankers, the United Nations is delivering the clean water to Kibumba refugee camp in six locally hired trucks usually used to haul gasoline. A yellow, 55,000-liter truck, with “Petroleum” marked in huge letters on the side, was pumped with water Thursday.

John Crosthwaite, the convoy manager, said three other gas trucks had been sent for cleaning.

Similarly, the long-awaited military airlift support team that arrived Thursday was able to bring only one-third its 60-member team and half its gear. It won’t begin full operations before Saturday.

And although the team left the United States on Sunday, the airlift and airport specialists spent three days waiting at Moron Air Base in Spain before finally getting clearance to come. One officer said Franco-American military rivalry was part of the problem.


“We spent a lot of time prepared, ready and capable of being here,” said Capt. Tom Mauchly, the operations officer. “We were told the French were concerned we were going to eat their food, drink their water and take their space.”

France sent about 3,000 troops to eastern Zaire and southwest Rwanda in June in an attempt to stop the massacres of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutu-led government and militias. The Tutsi-led rebels later took over the country, sparking a mass exodus of refugees.