BATTLE FOR ZAIRE, ROUND TWO For the second time in 14 months, rebel forces have invaded the rich Shaba province of Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo).
In March of last year a similar invasion from Marxist Angola was repulsed. This time, however, the assault could prove to be more difficult to deal with. Last time, the rebels, remnants of the old Katangese units that fought the Central Congolese government in 1961, were trained but apparently not led into battle by their Cuban advisors. This time they are openly accompanied by Cuban soldiers along with Libyans and Algerians.
As in "round one" over a year ago, the invaders have struck from bases in Angola, which is the staging ground for attacks not only upon Zaire, but South West Africa. A huge training camp has been established in the former Portuguese colony, run by Cubans, East Germans, Czechs and other East bloc member states.
Zaire's President Mobutu has called again upon the West to help prevent the dismemberment of his country, which would lead to its collapse. Will France and Morocco again save the day as they did last year when French planes airlifted in 1500 Moroccan troops to turn the tide of the battle? Mobutu knows from experience not to depend upon America. Last year the U.S. dispatched some "nonoffensive" military supplies and also, curiously, a C-130 cargo plane loaded with cases of Coca-cola.
France is turning out to be the Western "gendarme of Africa" in the absence of U.S. and British action. French units are also fighting Libyan-backed guerrilla bands in Chad and supporting the Mauritanian cause in the Western Sahara dispute against Soviet- and Algerian-backed guerrillas. The French state that they have an obligation to defend the African member-states of the French Community. But another reason is that Paris believes it alone has the political will to block the expansion of Soviet-Cuban influence in Africa.
Certainly America no longer has the will to do so — or even the perception, apparently, of what the enemy is up to. In a speech recently in Spokane, Washington, for example, President Carter downplayed the obvious grab for geopolitical advantage in Africa on the part of Moscow. Instead, said Mr. Carter, the "innate racism that exists toward black people within the Soviet Union" figured in Soviet support for military adventures in Africa. He predicted this attitude would work to MOSCOW'S disadvantage. The President added that he thought "we are holding our own in the so-called peaceful competition with the Soviet Union in Africa."