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Botswana invited US troops over Zimbabwe attack fears
06/09/2011 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
Attack fears ... Botswana President Ian Khama
 
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BOTSWANA invited the United States to send troops to guard a transmission station used by the Voice of America's Studio 7 to broadcast into Zimbabwe, leaked diplomatic cables show.

Zimbabwe’s western neighbour was concerned by rising rhetoric against the radio station which is funded by the United States government and broadcasts from Washington through medium and shortwave.

Botswana’s Defence, Justice and Security Minister Ramadeluka Seretse is said to have made the extraordinary request in July 2008 over concerns that Zimbabwe would try to take out the controversial transmitters operated by the International Broadcasting Bureau, a US government agency.

Philip R. Drouin, the Chargé d'Affaires at the US embassy in Botswana at the time, said Botswana’s invitation of US troops to be stationed on its soil provided “extensive background on President (Ian) Khama's strategic thinking, decision-making style, his views of and inclinations towards the United States”.

But as the embassy warned in other dispatches following another Botswana request for arms of war in preparation for a feared invasion by Zimbabwe, it cautioned Washington against granting the request.

“Post remains unaware of any other specific threats at present, and we continue to monitor the situation closely. It is therefore the view of this Mission that while an offer such as this (i.e., the GOB's willingness to accept U.S. military forces) is appreciated by us, and indicative of the strength of U.S.-Botswana relations, deployment of U.S. military personnel to secure the VOA station here should be considered only as truly the last available option,” Drouin said in the cable leaked by whistleblower website, WikiLeaks.

Minister Seretse, who resigned in 2010, revealed that Botswana had “placed small numbers of troops at the VOA facilities to provide 24-hour security in the form of roving patrols”, but warned that “if the BDF were to become over-extended due to the Zimbabwe situation, the BDF might no longer be able to provide the troops”.

Other leaked diplomatic cables show that at around the same time, Botswana asked the United States to supply various military equipment, fearing an imminent military assault by Zimbabwe.

Major General Gobuamang Tlhokwane, then the deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Forces, is said to have approached a defence cooperation official at the US embassy in Botswana on July 14, 2008, and claimed that Zimbabwe had massed military forces on the border region.



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He asked the US to help with global positioning systems, anti-tank missiles, short range air defence systems, F5 under-wing tank system and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for the expected attack.

Embassy officials, however, warned that provision of the equipment could harm America's interests in the region and possibly trigger an arms race.

"This Mission is mindful of how a closer US government and (Botswana) security relationship, with possible provision of new arms and equipment, might impact our ongoing diplomacy in Southern Africa and beyond," the embassy officials said.

"We should examine ways to enhance institutional ties and other support for the government of Botswana and the Botswana Defence Force where appropriate, but also in a manner that will not harm overriding US interests in Africa."

Zimbabwe has in the past spoken strongly against Botswana's decision to continue hosting Voice of America (VOA) transmitters. It claims they are being used by the United States government to transmit propaganda against President Robert Mugabe.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa also accused Khama's government of training militias from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T party to topple Mugabe, which Botswana strenuously denied.

The United States has announced long term plans to move the headquarters of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) from Germany to an African country, and Botswana is said to be receptive to the possibility of hosting foreign troops – a major source of tension with its Southern African Development Community neighbours.

Botswana's apparent close relations with America have seen President Khama facing accusations of being a "puppet", notably from Julius Malema, the leader of the Youth League of South Africa's ruling African National Congress.

“The BDP [Botswana Democratic Party] is a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry [sic] of the United States," Malema declared last month, although he has been admonished by the ANC for the comments.


 
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