US positioning troops in Gabon to respond to Congo

The US has deployed approximately 80 troops to Gabon to potentially assist US citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo if violent protests over elections threaten their security, President Donald Trump told Congress in a letter Friday.

Most voters in Congo went to the polls Sunday — after more than two years of delays and countless protests — to elect the successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 18 years. But the election’s credibility has come under suspicion after ongoing delays in reporting the results.

“The first of these personnel arrived in Gabon on January 2, 2019, with appropriate combat equipment and supported by military aircraft,” Trump’s letter to Congress read. “Additional forces may deploy to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the Republic of the Congo, if necessary for these purposes.”

“These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” the letter continued.

Trump said he sent the letter to inform Congress in order to be consistent with the War Powers Resolution. The move marks the first major deployment of US troops in a potential contingency operation under acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Protests erupted in the eastern region of the country after the election was delayed until March in three cities, as the nation faces ongoing ISIS threats and a resurgence of the Ebola virus.

The State Department called on the DRC’s National Independent Electoral Commission to release the results of the election and respect the “voices and votes” of those who had cast their ballots.

“We strongly urge (the commission) to ensure that votes are counted in a transparent and open manner, with observers present, and that the results reported by (the commission) are accurate and correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations,” the department said in a statement.

The department also criticized late election materials and the delayed elections in the three opposition-heavy cities, which it said “disenfranchised voters.”

In response to protests following the elections, the Congolese government shut down internet services on Sunday. The US Embassy in Kinshasa urged Americans to leave the country and to “remain alert for potentially dangerous situations.”

A State Department travel advisory has been in place since mid-December, urging Americans to “reconsider travel” to DRC “due to crime and civil unrest.”