Confidential

Angolan Civil War and the Intelligence POV

FNLA recruits in a training camp in Zaire

Angolan Civil War: Background

The Angolan Civil War began in 1975 and continued until 2002. Immediately after becoming independent from Portugal in November 1975. The war was a power struggle between two anti-colonial guerrilla movements. On the one hand the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). On the other the anti-communist National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The MPLA and UNITA had different roots in Angola and mutually different incompatible leadership. MPLA during the civil war had Marxist-Leninist ideologies, whereas the UNITA was focused on conservatism and Angolan nationalism from anti-communism. The MPLA achieved victory in 2002. The war devastated Angola’s infrastructure and damaged public administration, economy, and religious institutions.

KJ1 – Angola was of little strategic importance to the United States and was not threatened by communism. It is likely that the United States just wanted a reactionary intervention.

KJ2 – United States covert action in Angola likely led to the polarisation of Angolan politics and drove his opponents into Soviet hands.

KJ3 – South African covert entry into the war was likely due to the lack of control in Angola from South Africa and destabilise Angola so the reconstruction of its economy would likely take longer.

Angolan Civil War and the US involvement

The U.S had little interest in Angola. At least until the arrival of the Cuban forces in 1975 due to its communist link. This led the United States to support South Africa and its funding to UNTIA. It got caught through CIA covert operations trying to find a way out. The US also made use of converted veterans to mercenaries for UNITA and National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Portuguese: Frente Nacional de Libertação de AngolaFNLA) as well as SAS recruiters receiving money from an undisclosed national from Zaire. Costas Georgiou, Nick Hall and John Banks after were some of the names. Most of them had already been fighting in Angola. This allowed the US to challenge itself in a proxy warzone environment during the Cold War.

Angolan Civil War
Angolan Civil War

Polarisation of Angolan Politics

United States actions were led due to the threat that Soviet-Cuban cooperation with MLPA meant in Africa. The United States covert involvement allowed for a higher death toll but also balanced the relationship with South Africa. United States support effectively allowed for UNITA and South African forces to have strength over MLPA.

Also, the United States subsidized at a much-reduced level-Holden Roberto’s FNLA through Zaire and CIA conduits from 1961 to 1969. But, in 1969, the Nixon administration decided to end the covert aid program to FNLA as a part of a policy decision to improve relations with the ‘white regimes’ in Southern Africa. In the early spring of 1975, President Gerald Ford made the decision to also fund the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. The 40 Committee-a body in the Executive branch that approves large scale covert operations (chaired by Kissinger), approved $300,000 in secret subsidies for UNITA.

US Equipment in Angola

Adding to that, U. S. transport planes C-141 and C-130, flying on behalf of the CIA, would land regularly in Kinshasa, Zaire, loading off tons of military supplies, including rifles, machine guns, light artillery, rocket launchers and munitions, which would then fly to the Angolan town of Ambriz by smaller planes. In addition to the arms and munitions, the United States flew artillery spotter planes, piloted by Americans, into the Angolan battle zones.

UNITA armour and Grad Launcher in Angola

South Africa’s Covert Action

Angola is potentially one of the wealthiest countries in Africa and engages in a competitive resource market. It was the leading oil producer and before 1973 it was a major diamond and coffee source. South Africa intervened with CIA support by land, sea and air against MPLA. American and South African cooperation came from the Carter administration’s agreement with the Chinese for weapons to support UNITA. After the 1980 Republican victory in the United States, South Africans deepened their apartheid structures in neighbouring countries.

By intervening in the war and damaging most of the Namibian-Angolese border, South Africa expected to destabilise Angola economically. South Africa feared Angola as it was one of the only countries that were not controlled them. UNITA carried attacks on economic targets and kidnapped expatriate workers. South African and UNITA forces withdrew their fight after the United States stopped covertly financing and supporting them, which essentially led to MPLA, Cuban and Soviet victory.

Conclusion

The United States never had much interest in Angola until Cuba and the Soviets joined in support of the MPLA. This led to the support of South African and UNITA forces’ covert operations through the subsidising of equipment as well as mercenaries. South African implication was based on the destabilisation of the economic situation in Angola and to avoid a communist supported country getting in charge.

Intelligence Cutoff Date: 28th of March 2021 (UTC -7)

Author

Maria Garcia Ribera

Maria is a graduate of Brunel University in Military and International History and is currently undertaking a masters in Intelligence and Security Studies. Her research is focused on war and conflict and its effect on geographical acquisitions.

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