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Angola 1975-1976

The Hughes-Ryan Amendment was signed into law in December 1974. From that point on, the president would have to personally approve covert operations by signing a written "finding" that the operation was important to the national security and provide "timely notice" of such operations to the "appropriate committees" of the Congress. This was interpreted to include not only the armed services and appropriations committees but also the foreign affairs committees on each side.

The first repercussion of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment came less than a year later, when members of the SFRC raised concerns about a covert action program on which they had been given "timely notice" - Angola. In May 1975, Portugal announced it would grant independence to its colony of Angola on 11 November 1975. During the interim period, three political groups struggled for power. All were tribally based and nationalistic, but the strongest one (the MPLA) was avowedly communist while the other two (the FNLA and UNITA) were not.

Not surprisingly, Angola became the next battle-ground in the Cold War. The USSR and Cuba supported the MPLA; the United States supported the FNLA and UNITA. Other countries were involved, notably South Africa, which was heavily engaged in funneling military supplies and other assistance to UNITA. When the Soviet Union began increasing its support to the MPLA, the Ford Administration countered by authorizing an increase in US support for the two noncommunist groups. This entailed a "finding" being signed by the president in July 1975 pursuant to the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, enacted six months before, as well as briefings of the six congressional committees entitled to receive "timely notice."

The US belived the consequences of a victory for the Soviet Union and the Soviet-backed MPLA would be serious. The governments of Zaire and Zambia, with whom both the US and the Chinese enjoyed good relations and both of which were experiencing internal stresses, would be vulnerable. The possibility of the Soviets pushing to upset the balance of power in strategically vital southern Africa would be greater. The demonstration effect of a Soviet success could also have adverse repercussions elsewhere in the world.

The US sought a negotiated settlement in Angola - one that would permit UNITA and FNLA to take their place in the government. In view of this policy in support of a government of national unity, the would not recognize any Angolan faction. This stance was in line with the OAU position. The US believed that no settlement could be negotiated unless the military balance between UNITA and FNLA on the one hand and MPLA on the other could be maintained. Washingto worked in this direction, in cooperation with Zaire, which was the most endangered by developments in Angola. One of the SFRC senators briefed on the operation, Dick Clark (D-IA), traveled to Africa in August 1975. In the course of his travels, he learned of the South African support for UNITA and became concerned that the United States had aligned itself with the apartheid government there. A month after Clark's return, several press stories revealed the South African involvement with UNITA (and indirectly with the United States), forcing DCI Colby to deny publicly that the United States was directly providing weapons to the Angolan groups or that Americans were involved in the fighting taking place. In November, however, Colby acknowledged during a closed session of the SFRC that the United States was providing arms to the noncommunist forces in Angola and, in some cases, was doing so through other governments. Testimony from this session leaked the following day to the New York Times, causing Senator Clark, among others, to wonder if the Agency was more directly involved than he had been led to believe, especially with the apartheid government in Pretoria.

In December 1975, after his SFRC subcommittee had held yet another session with Colby to explore the Agency's role, Clark introduced an amendment prohibiting the expenditure of CIA funds in Angola - except for intelligence gathering - and the use of any DoD funds to continue the oper-ation. The amendment passed the Senate and House within a matter of weeks and President Ford signed it into law on 9 February 1976, the first time that Congress had ever ended a covert action by denying the funds for it.

By January 1976, with the support of some 10,000 to 12,000 Cuban troops and Soviet arms worth US$200 million, it was clear that the MPLA had emerged as the dominant military power. By February 1976, the FNLA and its mercenaries had been defeated in northern Angola; under international pressure, South African troops had withdrawn into Namibia; and the MPLA was in control in Cabinda. Furthermore, United States assistance to the FNLA and UNITA ceased following the passage by the United States Senate of the Clark Amendment, which prohibited all direct and indirect military or paramilitary assistance to any Angolan group. The OAU finally recognized the MPLA regime as Angola's official government, as did the UN and Portugal and more than eighty other nations.

In late 1978, as a result of allegations made in the book "In Search of Enemies: CIA Story" by former CIA employee John Stockwell, the SSCI opened an investigation of the Angola covert action program that had been terminated two years before. As a result of this investigation, the committee drafted a highly critical report asserting that the Agency had been responsible for "misinforming and misleading the Congress." The adversarial tone of the report so upset DCI Turner that he wrote SSCI Chairman Birch Bayh (D-IN) to complain there hadbeen a breakdown in the oversight relationship.

In early 1981 the incoming Reagan Administration notified Congress that it intended to request the lifting of the Clark Amendment -- the 5-year ban on secret aid torebel groups in Angola. This amendment, which banned the dispatch of arms or cash to organizations like the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was seen by critics as really only been a fig leaf for Washington. In the years since its passage in 1976, theye charged that the CIA and other American agencies had sent arms to the mercenary gangs by way of the racist Republic of South Africa.

Political and diplomatic differences between the United States and Angola were generally mitigated by close economic ties. American oil companies operating in Cabinda provided a substantial portion of Angola's export earnings and foreign exchange, and this relationship continued despite political pressures on these companies to reduce their holdings in Cabinda in the mid-1980s. The divergence of private economic interests from United States diplomatic policy was complicated by differences of opinion among American policymakers. By means of the Clark Amendment, from 1975 to 1985 the United States Congress prohibited aid to UNITA and slowed covert attempts to circumvent this legislation. After the repeal of the Clark Amendment in 1985, however, trade between Angola and the United States continued to increase, and Cuban and Angolan troops attempted to prevent sabotage against United States interests by UNITA and South African commandos.

In 1986 the Reagan Administration determined in National Security Decision Directive Number 212 of 10 February 1986 that " The United States and its allies have important political, commercial, and strategic interests in southern Africa, which are being threatened by the Angolan MPLA regime's hard-line policies and increased Soviet Bloc military assistance to that government. At this juncture, direct Soviet/Cuban challenges to our important interests in the region and the increased military confrontation inside Angola, coupled with the recent repeal of the Clark Amendment and continued uncertainty of UU negotiating efforts, make it necessary to reconsider and affirm US southern Africa policy objectives in the Angolan context. These objectives are:

  • Reduce and possibly eliminate Soviet and Soviet-proxy influence and opportunities in Angola and southern Africa;
  • Encourage change away from apartheid and reform in southern Africa so as to enhance prospects for peace and improved relations between South Africa and its neighbors~
  • Promote regional stability and improved relations between South Africa and its neighbors, particularly by participating in efforts to achieve negotiated settlements to regional problems and broker rules of engagement for the peaceful resolution of disputesi
  • Seek an internationally acceptable solution to the Namibian problem based on UNSCR 435, and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.

In order to achieve these broad objectives, the US would remain actively involved in southern Africa, and with respect to Angola, would pursue a two-track strategy of a) continuing to negotiate with the MPLA and South Africa on Cuban troop withdrawal in the context of Namibian independence while b) applying pressure on the MPLA to negotiate seriously and to accept a negotiated settlement.

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Page last modified: 24-10-2016 19:50:04 ZULU