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Angola Army - History

When the African nationalist revolt erupted in early 1961, the Portuguese army in Angola numbered about 8,000 men, 5,000 of whom were African. The colonial forces responded brutally, and by the end of the summer they had regained control over most of the territory. The human cost, however, was enormous: more than 2,000 Europeans and up to 50,000 Africans died, and about 10 percent of Angola's African population fled to Zaire. By early 1962, the Portuguese army in Angola had grown to 50,000 and thereafter averaged 60,000 into the mid-1970s. About half of this expansion was achieved by conscription in Angola, and most conscripts were Africans. The Portuguese established a counterinsurgency program of population resettlement throughout the country. By the mid-1970s, more than 1 million peasants had been relocated into strategic settlements, and 30,000 males had been impressed into service in lightly armed militia units to defend them.

The thirteen-year Angolan war for independence, in which three rival nationalist groups fought the Portuguese to a stalemate, ended after the April 1974 military coup in Portugal. At that time, the MPLA and the FNLA had an estimated 10,000 guerrillas each, and UNITA had about 2,000. Within a year, these groups had become locked in a complex armed struggle for supremacy. By November 1975, when independence under a three-way coalition government was scheduled, the MPLA and the FNLA had built up their armies to 27,000 and 22,000, respectively, while UNITA had mustered some 8,000 to 10,000. Further complicating the situation was a substantial foreign military presence. Although the Portuguese forces numbered only 3,000 to 4,000 by late 1975, some 2,000 to 3,000 Cubans had arrived in support of the MPLA, from 1,000 to 2,000 Zairian regulars had crossed the border to aid the FNLA, and 4,000 to 5,000 SADF troops had intervened on behalf of UNITA. The civil war was soon decided in favor of the MPLA by virtue of the massive influx of Soviet weapons and advisers and Cuban troops.

In the early 1960s, the MPLA named its guerrilla forces the People's Army for the Liberation of Angola (Exército Popular de Libertação de Angola -- EPLA). Many of its first cadres had received training in Morocco and Algeria. In January 1963, in one of its early operations, the EPLA attacked a Portuguese military post in Cabinda, killing a number of troops. During the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the EPLA operated very successfully from bases in Zambia against the Portuguese in eastern Angola. After 1972, however, the EPLA's effectiveness declined following several Portuguese victories, disputes with FNLA forces, and the movement of about 800 guerrillas from Zambia to Congo.

On August 1, 1974, a few months after a military coup d'état had overthrown the Lisbon regime and proclaimed its intention of granting independence to Angola, the MPLA announced the formation of the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola -- FAPLA), which replaced the EPLA. By 1976 FAPLA had been transformed from lightly armed guerrilla units into a national army capable of sustained field operations. This transformation was gradual until the Soviet-Cuban intervention and ensuing UNITA insurgency, when the sudden and large-scale inflow of heavy weapons and accompanying technicians and advisers quickened the pace of institutional change.

Unlike African states that acceded to independence by an orderly and peaceful process of institutional transfer, Angola inherited a disintegrating colonial state whose army was in retreat. Although Mozambique's situation was similar in some respects, the confluence of civil war, foreign intervention, and large-scale insurgency made Angola's experience unique. After independence, FAPLA had to reorganize for conventional war and counterinsurgency simultaneously and immediately to continue the new war with South Africa and UNITA. Ironically, a guerrilla army that conducted a successful insurgency for more than a decade came to endure the same kind of exhausting struggle for a similar period.

By 1985 the Soviet Union is increasingly concerned with what it alleged to be a lack of effectiveness on the part of the Angolan and Cuban troops in the fight against UNITA. There was a prevailing realization that the war between the MPLA regime and UNITA was stalemated. The Soviet generals, who played a decisive role in the planning of the general staff in Luanda — thus causing a certain amount of uneasiness among Angolan officers — viewedthe military "stalemate" with discontent and apprehension. In its situation analysis, the Soviet; Union considered this deadlock as "illogical" in view of the enormous disproportion of forces in the field in favor of the Angolan regime — even though this factor does not count much in a guerilla war.

Reports indicated that the personnel strength of the Angolan Armed Forces was 50,000 men, supported by some 30,000 Cubans. UNITA at this time was reported to have not more than 15,000 guerilla fighters scattered throughout the vast territory of Angola. Even more accentuated is the imbalance in the matter of available resources. The armament of UNITA is considered rudimentary whereas the government forces are provided with the most sophisticated equipment furnished by the Soviet Union.

By 1986 FAPLA's strength stood at 49,500 men, said to represent an increase of 6,000 since 1985, backed by 20,000 Cuban troops and 5,000 advisers. In addition there were up to 3,000 other foreign personnel including 700 Russians and 500 East Germans who UNITA claimed were closely involved in the planning of battles and the operation of radar and anti-aircraft installations. With just under 20,000 groops and an unknown nuDi>er of irregular forces, UNITA alone would be no match for FAPLA without Pretoria's aid.

FAPLA's military performance was difficult to gauge, particularly in view of the propagandistic reports issued by the various forces contending in the region. On the one hand, UNITA had extended its range of operations from the remote southeastern extremities throughout the entire country within a few years of Portugal's withdrawal. The SADF had occupied parts of southern Angola for extended periods, virtually without contest, for the purposes of resupplying UNITA, intervening on its behalf, conducting reconnaissance flights and patrols, and attacking SWAPO encampments.

UNITA reported low morale among captured FAPLA conscripts, lack of discipline among troops, heavy losses of personnel and equipment in battle, countless ambushes and attacks on FAPLA forces, successful sabotage operations, and desertions by battalion-size FAPLA units. In the late 1980s, Angola's minister of defense publicly called for greater discipline in FAPLA, citing reports of theft, assaults, and drunken military drivers. As late as 1988, in the wake of reports of increased FAPA/DAA effectiveness, the South African Air Force (SAAF) commander dismissed the Angolans as "extremely unprofessional," noting that "50 percent of the threat against us is Cuban."

On the other hand, it could be argued that FAPLA had substantially improved its capabilities and performance. In the first place, FAPLA had begun to develop and acquire the organization, doctrine, and equipment of a conventional army only during the civil war of 1975-76. It was then forced to fight a counterinsurgency war in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the country over extended lines of communications, without the requisite air or ground transport or logistical infrastructure. UNITA also enjoyed the advantages of operating in thinly populated areas along porous borders with Zambia and Zaire, with extensive SADF combat and logistic support, making it impossible for FAPLA to isolate or outflank UNITA. Moreover, military experts believe that counterinsurgency troops must outnumber guerrillas by ten to one in order to win such wars, a ratio FAPLA could never approximate.

Although they suffered heavy losses and perhaps relied too heavily on Soviet military doctrine, FAPLA and FAPA/DAA in the late 1980s showed increased strength, put greater pressure on UNITA, and raised the costs of South Africa's support for UNITA. Luanda's resolve and the improved capabilities and performance of its armed forces were among the essential conditions under which South Africa agreed to negotiate its withdrawal from Angola.

The May 1991 peace agreement not only set the terms for a cease-fire, it also established an interim structure for de facto power sharing between the principal parties, with international supervision, and set objectives for the creation of an elected democratic national government. The Bicesse accords provided for elections to be held by November 1, 1992; and the formation of a new national army, composed equally of former MPLA and UNITA soldiers, by the time of the elections.

The visit of the Russian foreign minister to Luanda in early 1992 was the occasion for a request by the emissary from Moscow that Angola repay outstanding debts for past purchase of Soviet military equipment, as well as an announcement that the Soviet military mission to Angola would close. Notwithstanding the Russians' expressed interest in helping the new unified national army with its Soviet-made equipment, the main subjects of the foreign minister's visit underscored that disengagement was the primary theme of Russian policy in Angola. The Russians had not been recognized as the sole successors of the superpower by the Angolans, who used this fact as an excuse for not fulfilling the payment of those obligations.

Under the accords, the UNITA army, known as FALA (Portuguese acronym for Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola) and the MPLA army, known as FAPLA (Portuguese acronym for Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola) troops were io assemble and demobilize by the end of July 1992 at about 44 different assembly areas. Only 40,000 of the roughly 160,000 armed troops were to form the new national army, with the rest being relieved of their duties. Under the accords, the new national army, to be known as the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), was to become operational by election day. According to reports fiom the United Nations Angola Assistance and Verification Mission (UNAVEM), as of February 12 just 50% of the estimated total of 114,000 FAPLA troops were present in their designated assembly areas. The figure for FALA troops was 93%.

The February 2, 1992 Report of UNAVEM II depicted a very complex situation. From a total of 144,000 soldiers who should have been present in the zones of concentration for the demobilization process, UNAVEM could only account for 90,000, 64-percent of the total expected. The figure of 90,000 soldiers is itself questionable, as only 73,000 were physically present in the zones of concentration during the count. Commanders were not able to explain in many cases why some of the troops were absent. A few, especially in the more densely populated zones, adduced that the men absent during the roll call had been authorized to go out of the zones of concentration in search of food. It is also reported that in many cases the officers cannot control their personnel and that discipline is poor, not to say nonexistent in many of the zones of concentration. The problen of demobilization is closely linked to the problem of private violence. Incidents of such violence increased after the war and continued to do so.

FAPLA was in increasing disarray, as reflected in the low rate of assembly. There were several rebellions by FAPLA soldiers seeking back pay, food, or simply revenge against officers who have abused them or diverted salaries, food, and suppiies. Such rebellions, which have included civilian loss of life and property damage, occurred in early 1992 in the towns of Luena, Menongue, and Kuito, arrong others. Given demobilization coincided with the beginning of the national political campaign, the implications for security and the political process were.

The de facto disintegration of FAPLA was at the heart of the key national problem of the day - security - which directly affected the electoral process, and thus threatened the whole process of democratization in Angola. The breakdown of civil order caused by the marauding banditry of former soldiers, faced with limited prospects of legitimate employment, increased even as the electoral process gets under way. A UN agency reported that "peacetime violence has replaced open warfare as an obstacle to orderly progress toward democracy and development. " The agency also noted that "overland travel in some areas has become problematic due to banditry."

FALA had less difficulty in reaching the goals of the plan of demobilization, as its soldiers feel that they belong to the band that won the Cold War. They also have fewer personnel to demobilize. UNITA forces continued to be well organized and disciplined, and the widespread suspicion was that they are not surrendering all of their best weaponry. In effect, the demobilization process left UNITA, in the view of observers, in a position to resume organized military operations, if desired.

By June 1992, 10 months after the process was supposed to be completed, an estimated 85 percent of Unita forces and 37 percent of MPLA forces were encamped, according the United Nations. When encampment formally ended in September, however, the United Nations concluded that about 80 percent of government troops had been demobilized, but "a much lower proportion" of Unita guerrillas. The figures are uncertain, but the resumption of fighting proved there were massive violations.

As a result, the planned Armed Forces of Angola was never formed except on paper. The Bicesse Agreement called for 20,000 volunteer recruits each from among Unita and MPLA troops. By September 1992, only a few hundred officers had been trained and commissioned in the new army. However, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi signed a declaration on September 26 that abolished the two armies and ostensibly launched the Armed Forces of Angola.

The MPLA shifted 10,000 to 20,000 of its elite troops to what it termed a riot police force. Unita kept heavy weapons and an estimated 25,000 troops in the bush. In the end, Unita was more successful in keeping its forces intact. When fighting resumed in October 1992, Unita established control over much of the country. The MPLA needed several months to reorganize before it regained lost territory.

In December 1993, a new agreement was reached on completion of the formation of the Angolan armed forces, including demobilisation. New negotiations between the government and Unita led to the Lusaka Protocol in November 1994. But the demobilization process called for in the agreement lagged behind the timetable. Disarmament and military integration issues proved contentious at Lusaka and were rife with loopholes.

Executive Outcomes (EO), the most successful private army in recent history, was founded as a “military advisory company,” whose ranks consisted of experienced South African Defense Force (SADF) soldiers, most having fought side-by-side with the UNITA rebels in Angola. In 1993 EO was contracted by the Angolan government to regain control of a valuable petroleum complex taken over by UNITA forces. After a decisive victory over UNITA, EO quickly became legendary and controversial, because EO’s numbers were so small and because EO was an “outsourced” mercenary. Nevertheless, EO was given an new contract to train and advise a brigade-sized element of the Armed Forces of Angola (FAA) to conduct counter-insurgency operations against UNITA forces.

At that time, the FAA were in the eyes of the international media compared to Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia for sending young children (13 to 15 years old) into battle. EO insisted on a minimum age of 16 for their recruits, a stance that the top FAA reluctantly accepted. EO also had to reverse the rigid doctrine of the conventionally minded FAA, who had been taught by the Soviets with their unbending “Fulda Gap” mentality of using overwhelming numbers to defeat the enemy.

EO began conducting combined operations with elements of its specially trained 16th Brigade, using conventional attacks to overtake UNITA fortifications and logistics that were susceptible to smaller unit tactics. After a grueling final offensive to take back the heavily defended town of Cacolo in 1995, EO and the FAA delivered such a crushing blow that they sent UNITA into retreat. The next month UNITA agreed to talks on ending the war and United Nations monitors began arriving. UNITA resumed hostilities once the United Nations troops were brought in and EO had departed. In April 1997 a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation (GURN) was established, but Savimbi maintained an active army in the field.

By 1998 the war in Angola had ceased to be driven by ethnic hatred or ideological differences. It has descended into a profitable playground fight between a handful of very rich bullies, who showed no concern for their exhausted, disenfranchised countrymen. Angola's minister of defense publicly admitted that senior army officers and government officials were profiting from large commissions on weapons purchases. Lower down the line of command, government soldiers were selling fuel, weapons and even uniforms to UNITA.

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