Joint Task Force LEO

JTF LEO was a US Strike Command project that began in August 1964 when two Tactical Air Command C-130Es from the 464th Troop Carrier Wing departed McDill AFB, Florida for Leopoldville, the capital of The Democratic Republic of Congo, a newly established country that had come to being when Belgium gave up its African colony, formerly known as the Belgian Congo. JTF LEO was sent to Leopoldville to assist the Congolese government in combating rebel tribesmen known as "Simba" after the African lion, who had rebelled against the established government. Consisting of the two C-130s, two US Army UH-1 helicopters from a unit in Germany and a platoon of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg along with Strike Command command and communications personnel, the LEO force went to Africa to join a small mercenary air force that had been established in the Congo a few months earlier by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA force orginally consisted of a squadron of modified T-6 trainers flown by Cuban exiles, it had been expanded to include modified T-28s, UH-21 helicopters and C-47 transports and was later reinforced with 10 Douglas A-26 attack bombers.

CIA B-26
(The above photo was submitted by TCTAA member Ed Jackson, who was with the 464th FMS. That is Ed kneeling by #1 engine.)

Operating from the airport at Leopoldville where the airmen lived in primitive quarters that had been built for United Nations forces several years earlier, the C-130 crews flew missions in support of the Congolese forces, which included a force of mostly white mercenaries who had been recruited by old Congo hands South African Jeremiah Puren and Irishman Mike Hoare. Puren had formerly commanded the Katangan air force and Hoare was a veteran of military special operations and mercenary warfare whose career dated back to 1944 when he had served under British Brigadier Orde Wingate in Burma. Veterans of the LEO mission compare the missions they flew with those they flew in Vietnam a few years later, stating that they were essentially the same.

Congo Mercs

(credit - Ed Jackson)

JTF LEO remained in Leopoldville until August 1965. During the year in which it was in Africa, LEO personnel provided airlift support to the Congolese government. In November when 464th aircraft and crews from the rotational squadron at Evereux, France flew the famous DRAGON ROUGE mission, the LEO C-130s joined their fellow unit personnel in evacuating freed hostages and non-Congolese civilians from Stanleyville.

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