Sunday, March 17, 2013


In the meantime, on 10 March 1988, when the defence of Cuito Cuanavale after three failed SADF-attacks was secure, Cuban, FAPLA and SWAPO units advanced from Lubango to the southwest. The first South African resistance was encountered near Calueque on 15 March followed by three months of bloody clashes as the Cubans progressed towards the Namibian border. By the end of May Cuba had two divisions in southwestern Angola. By June they constructed two forward airbases atCahama and Xangongo with which Cuban air power could be projected into Namibia. All of southern Angola was covered by a radar network and SA-8 air defence ending South African air superiority.
On 26 May 1988, the chief of the SADF announced, "heavily armed Cuban and SWAPO forces, integrated for the first time, have moved south within 60km of the Namibian border". The remaining SADF forces at Cuito Cuanavale were now in danger of being closed in. On 8 June 1988 the SADF called up 140,000 men of the reserves (Citizen Force), giving an indication of how serious the situation had become. The South African administrator general in Namibia acknowledged on 26 June that Cuban MIG-23s were flying over Namibia, a dramatic reversal from earlier times when the skies had belonged to the SAAF. He added, "the presence of the Cubans had caused a flutter of anxiety" in South Africa.
In June 1988 the Cubans prepared to advance on Calueque starting from Xangongo and Tchipa. In case of serious South African counterattacks, Castro gave orders to be ready to destroy the Ruacana reservoirs and transformers and attack South African bases in Namibia. The offensive started from Xangongo on June 24 immediately clashing with the SADF en route to Cuamato. Although the SADF was driven off the FAPLA-Cubans retreated to their base. On 26 July 1989 the SADF shelled Tchipa (Techipa) with long-range artillery and Castro gave orders for the immediate advance on Calueque and an air strike against the SADF camps and military installations around Calueque. After a clash with a FAPLA-Cuban advance group on 27 June the SADF retreated towards Calueque under bombardment from Cuban planes and crossed the border into Namibia that same afternoon. By then, Cuban MiG-23s had carried out the attacks on the SADF positions around the Calueque dam, 11 km north of the Namibian border, also damaging the bridge and hydroelectric installations. The major force of the Cubans, still on the way, never saw action and returned to Tchipa and with the retreat of the SADF into Namibia an 27 June the hostilities ceased.
The CIA reported that "Cuba's successful use of air power and the apparent weakness of Pretoria's air defences" highlighted the fact that Havana had achieved air superiority in southern Angola and northern Namibia. Only a few hours after the Cuban's air strike, the SADF destroyed the nearby bridge over the Cunene River. They did so, the CIA surmised, "to deny Cuban and Angolan ground forces easy passage to the Namibia border and to reduce the number of positions they must defend."  The South Africans, impressed by the suddenness and scale of the Cuban advance and believing that a major battle "involved serious risks" withdrew. Five days later Pretoria ordered a combat group still operational in southeastern Angola to scale back to avoid any more casualties, effectively withdrawing from all fighting, and a SADF division was deployed in defence of Namibia's northern border.


Preparations went on their way for the next offensive in 1987, Operacao Saludando Octubre and once more the Soviets upgraded the FAPLA's equipment including 150 T-55 and T-54B tanks and Mi-24 and Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters. Again they dismissed warnings of a South African intervention. Pretoria, taking notice of the massive military build-up around Cuito Cuanavale, warned UNITA and on 15 June authorized covert support. In spite of these preparations, on 27 July Castro proposed Cuba's participation in the negotiations, indicating that he was interested in curtailing its involvement in Angola. The Reagan administration declined.
From the very start of the FAPLA-offensive it was clear to Pretoria that UNITA could not withstand the onslaught and on 4 August 1987 launched clandestine Operation Modular, which engaged in the first fights 9 days later. The FAPLA reached the northern banks of the Lomba River near Mavinga on 28 August and were expected by the SADF. In a series of bitter fights between 9 September and 7 October they prevented the FAPLA from crossing the river and stopped the offensive for a third time. The FAPLA suffered heavy losses and the Soviets withdrew their advisors from the scene leaving FAPLA without senior leadership. On 29 September the SADF launched an offensive aiming to destroy all FAPLA forces east of the Cuito River. On 3 October it attacked and annihilated a FAPLA-battalion on the southern banks of the Lomba River and two days later FAPLA started its retreat to Cuito Cuanavale.The SADF and UNITA pursued the retreating FAPLA units and started the siege of Cuito Cuanavale on 14 October with long-range shelling by 155 mm artilleryfrom a distance of 30 to 40 km.
Cuito Cuanavale, only a village, was important to FAPLA as a forward air base to patrol and defend southern Angola and considered an important gateway to UNITA's headquarters in the south-east. With the South Africans on the counter-attack, the town and base and possibly all of Cuando Cubango were now under threat, as was FAPLA's planned advance southwards against UNITA; on 15 November Luanda requested urgent military assistance from Cuba. Castro approved the Cuban intervention, Operation Maniobra XXXI Anniversario on the same day, retaking the initiative from the Soviets. As in 1975, Cuba again did not inform the USSR in advance of its decision to intervene. For the second time Cuba dispatched a large contingent of troops and arms across the ocean: 15,000 troops and equipment, including tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons and aircraft. Although not responsible for the dismal situation of the FAPLA Cuba felt impelled to intervene in order to prevent a total disaster for the Angolans. In Castro's view, a South African victory would have meant not only the capture of Cuito and the destruction of the best Angolan military formations, but, quite probably, the end of Angola's existence as an independent country. Around mid-January Castro let the Angolans know that he was taking charge and the first Cuban enforcements were deployed at Cuito Cuanavale.
The Cuban's initial priority was saving Cuito Cuanavale, but while enforcements were arriving at the besieged garrison they made preparations for a second front in Lubango where the SADF had been operating unhindered for 8 years.
By early November, the SADF had cornered FAPLA units in Cuito Cuanavale and was poised to destroy them. On 25 November the UN Security Council demanded the SADF's unconditional withdrawal from Angola by 10 December, but the US ensured that there were no repercussions for South Africa. US Assistant Secretary for Africa Chester Crocker reassured Pretoria's ambassador: "The resolution did not contain a call for comprehensive sanctions, and did not provide for any assistance to Angola. That was no accident, but a consequence of our own efforts to keep the resolution within bounds."  Through December the situation for the besieged Angolans became critical as the SADF tightened the noose around Cuito Cuanavale. Observers expected it to fall into South African hands any time soon and UNITA prematurely announced the town had been taken.
Starting 21 December the South Africans planned the final operation to "pick off" the five FAPLA brigades which were still to the east of the Cuito river "before moving in to occupy the town if the conditions were favourable". From mid-January to the end of February the SADF launched six major assaults on FAPLA positions east of the Cuito river, none of which delivered tangible results. Although the first attack on 13 January 1988 was successful, spelling near disaster for a FAPLA brigade, the SADF was unable to continue and retreated to its starting positions. After a month the SADF was ready for the second assault on 14 February. Again it withdrew after successfully driving FAPLA-Cuban units off the Chambinga high ground. Narrowly escaping catastrophe the FAPLA units east of the Cuito River withdrew to the Tumpo (river) triangle, a smaller area, ideally suited to defence. On 19 February the SADF suffered a first major setback when a third assault against a FAPLA battalion north of the Dala river was repelled; the SADF was unable to reach FAPLA's forward positions and had to withdraw. In the following days the Cubans stepped up their air attacks against South African positions. On 25 February the FAPLA-Cubans repelled a fourth assault and the SADF had to retreat to their positions east of the Tumpo River. The failure of this attack "proved a turning point of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, boosting FAPLA's flagging morale and bringing the South African advance to a standstill."  A fifth attempt was beaten back on 29 February delivering the SADF a third consecutive defeat. After some more preparation the South Africans launched their last and fourth unsuccessful attack on 23 March. As SADF-Colonel Jan Breytenbach wrote, the South African assault "was brought to a grinding and definite halt" by the combined Cuban and Angolan forces.
Eventually Cuban troop strength in Angola increased to about 55,000, with 40,000 deployed in the south. Due to the international arms embargo since 1977, South Africa's aging air force was outclassed by the sophisticated Soviet-supplied air defence system and air-strike capabilities fielded by the Angolans and it was unable to uphold the air supremacy it had enjoyed for years; its loss in turn proved to be critical to the outcome of the battle on the ground.
Cuito Cuanavale was the major battle site between Cuban, Angolan, Namibian and South African forces. It was the biggest battle on African soil since World War II and in its course just under 10,000 soldiers were killed. Cuban planes and 1,500 Cuban soldiers had reinforced the Angolans at Cuito. After the failed assault on 23 March 1988, the SADF withdrew leaving a 1,500-man "holding force" behind and securing their retreat with one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. Cuito Cuanavale continued to be bombarded from a distance of 30 to 40 km.



Escalation of the conflict

As a result of the South African Operation Askari in December 1983, which targeted PLAN bases inside Angola, the USSR not only increased its aid to Angola but also took over the tactical and strategic leadership of FAPLA deploying advisors right down to the battalion level and begun planning a large-scale offensive against the UNITA-stronghold in southeastern Angola.
Soviet command did not include the Cuban forces in Angola. Cuba's strategic opinions differed considerably from those of the Soviets and Angolans and Cuba strongly advised against an offensive in the southeast because it would create the opportunity for a significant South African invasion, which is what transpired.A FAPLA-offensive in 1984 had already brought dismal results. Under Soviet leadership the FAPLA launched two more offensives in 1985 and 1986. The Cubans deny involvement in the 1985 operation but supported the offensive in 1986 despite of many reservations, not providing ground forces but technical and air support. Apart from taking Cazombo in 1985, coming close to Mavinga and bringing UNITA close to defeat, both offensives ended up in a complete failure and became a major embarrassment for the Soviets. Unlike the Cubans with ten years of experience in the African theatre, the Soviet leadership was inexperienced and relations between the two became strained. In addition, in March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev had become the new General Secretary with whom Castro had considerable disagreements. In both FAPLA-offensives South Africa, still controlling the lower reaches of southwestern Angola, intervened as soon as UNITA came into distress. In September 1985, the South African Air Force prevented the fall of Mavinga and the FAPLA-offensive ended at the Lomba River.
After this debacle in 1985, the Soviets sent more equipment and advisors to Angola and immediately went about to prepare another FAPLA-offensive in the following year. In the meantime UNITA received its first military aid from the US, which included surface-to-airStinger missiles and BGM-71 TOW anti-tank-missiles. The US sent supplies to UNITA and SADF through the reactivated KaminaAirbase in Zaire. The offensive starting in May 1986 already got off to a poor start and again with the help of the SADF UNITA managed to stop the advance by late August.


In the following years, Cuba kept itself engaged in a number of other African countries. In 1978, Cuba sent 16,000 troops to EthiopiaOgaden War, but this time in close coordination with the Soviets. Smaller military missions were active in the People's Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Benin. Cuban technical, educational and medical staff in the tens of thousands were working in even more countries: Algeria (Tindouf), Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Ethiopia, São Tomé and Príncipe,Tanzania, the Congo and Benin. Up to 18,000 students from these countries studied on full Cuban scholarships per year on the island.
Towards the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Angola slipped away from wider international public attention but despite Cuba's victory on the ground, the war in Angola was far from over. UNITA was able to take up its insurgency operations in the south with the help of military and logistical support from South Africa and the Angolan government still had not gained control over the whole country. While the vast majority of the Cuban troops remaining in Angola stayed in the bases, some of them helped in 'mopping-up' operations, clearing remaining pockets of resistance in Cabinda and in the north. The operations in the south were less successful because of "Savimbi's tenacity and determination to fight on". "Most of the Cubans were organized and deployed in motorized infantry, air defense, and artilleriy units. Their main missions were to deter and defend against attacks beyond the southern combat zone, protecting strategic and economically critical sites and facilities, and provide combat support, such as rear-area security for major military installations and Luanda itself. At least 2000 Cuban troops were stationed in oil-producing Cabinda Province". After the South African retreat South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) again established bases in southern Angola, now supported by the Angolan government, and stepped up its operations in Namibia. In turn, as of early 1977, South African incursions into Angola were on the increase.
Cuban forces soon again were increased due to tensions between Angola and Zaire in March 1977 (see Shaba I). Mobutu accused Angola of instigating and supporting an attack of the FNLC (Front National pour la Libération du Congo) on the Zairian province of Shaba and Neto charged Mobutu with harbouring and supporting the FNLA and FLEC. Only 2 months later the Cubans played a role in stabilizing the Neto government and foiling the Nitista Plot when Nito Alves and José van Dunem split from the government and led an uprising. While Cuban soldiers actively helped Neto put down the coup, Alves and Neto both believed the Soviet Union supported Neto's ouster, which is another indication of the mutual distrust between the Soviets and Neto as well as the differing interests between the Soviets and the Cubans. Raúl Castro sent an additional four thousand troops to prevent further dissension within the MPLA's ranks and met with Neto in August in a display of solidarity. In contrast, Neto's distrust in the Soviet leadership increased and relations with the USSR worsened. Thousands of people were estimated to have been killed by Cuban and MPLA troops in the aftermath of Nito's attempted coup over a period that lasted up to two years, with some estimates claiming as high as 70,000 murdered.
Angola's Cuando Cubango province
In 1977 Britain, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the United States formed an informal negotiating team, called the Contact Group, to work with South Africa to implement a UN plan for free elections in Namibia. The South African government, however, was fundamentally opposed to the UN plan, which it claimed was biased in favour of the installation of a SWAPO government in Namibia.
South Africa continued to support UNITA, which not only took up the fight against the Angolan government but also helped the South Africans hunt down SWAPO, denying it a safe zone along Angola's southern border. They SADF established bases in Cuando Cubango Province in south-eastern Angola and the South African Air Force (SAAF) supplied UNITA with air cover from bases in Namibia. South Africa also went to great lengths to brush up Savimbi's image abroad, especially in the US. Apart from being a friend to some African dictators Savimbi became the toast of the Reagan White House and was feted by the rightwing establishment in many countries. Beginning in 1978, periodic South African incursions and UNITA's northward expansion in the east forced the Angolan government to increase expenditures on Soviet military aid and to depend even more on military personnel from the USSR, East Germany and Cuba.
The first large-scale incursions by the SADF occurred in May 1978 (Operation Reindeer), which became South Africa's most controversial operation in Angola. It involved two simultaneous assaults on a heavily populated SWAPO camps at Cassinga(Kassinga) and Chetequera. SADF intelligence believed Cassinga to be a PLAN (People's Liberation Army of Namibia, the armed wing of SWAPO) camp. The operational order was "to inflict maximum losses", but where possible, to "capture leaders". In the air borne raid on 8 May 1978 (SADF-terminology: Battle of Cassinga) over 600 people were killed, including some women and children. In addition, up to 150 Cubans of a unit rushing to the camp's aid lost their lives in an air attack and ambush on the way from their garrison in Tchamutete 15 km to the south. Thus, Cuba suffered its highest single-day casualty of its Angolan intervention. According to the controversial findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the camp most likely served civilian as well as a military purposes and the raid constituted a breach of international law and the "commission of gross human rights violations". SWAPO and the international media branded the incident a massacre turning it into a political disaster for South Africa. The revulsion at the carnage of the "Cassinga raid" and the ensuing international outcry led to the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 435 on 29 September 1978, calling for Namibia's independence and, to that end, for the establishment of a "Transition Assistance Group". Pretoria signed the resolution which spelled out the steps for granting independence to Namibia and raised expectations "that peace was around the corner in Southern Africa".
In Resolution 447 of 28 March 1979, the UN Security Council concluded "that the intensity and timing of these acts of armed invasion are intended to frustrate attempts at negotiated settlements in southern Africa" and voiced concern "about the damage and wanton destruction of property caused by the South African armed invasions of Angola launched from Namibia, a territory which South Africa illegally occupies". It strongly condemned "the racist regime of South Africa for its premeditated, persistent and sustained armed invasions ... of Angola", its "utilization of the international territory of Namibia as a springboard for armed invasions and destabilization of ... Angola" and demanded that "South Africa cease immediately its provocative armed invasions against ...Angola". On 2 November 1979 the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution (454), branding South Africa in a similar fashion for its armed incursions, calling upon South Africa "to cease immediately all acts of aggression and provocation against ... Angola" and "forthwith to withdraw all its armed forces from Angola" and demanding that "South Africa scrupulously respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity ... of Angola" and that "South Africa desist forthwith from the utilization of Namibia, a territory which it illegally occupies, to launch acts of aggression against ... Angola or other neighbouring African States". Nevertheless, by the end of 1979, following the bombing of Lubango, an undeclared war was in full swing.
Hardly 2 weeks later, on 17 May 1978, 6,500 Katangese gendarmes invaded the Zairian province of Shaba from bases in eastern Angola (Shaba II invasion) and the US accused Cuba of having a hand in it. Although there is no proof for a Cuban involvement it is likely that the Katangese had the support of the Angolan government. They were driven back across the border by French and Belgian military and Cuba and the US coaxed Neto and Mobutu to sign a non-aggression pact. While Neto agreed to repatriate the Katangese Mobutu cut off aid to FNLA, FLEC and UNITA and their bases along the border were shut down. By late 1978 Angola's security had been steadily deteriorating and UNITA emerging as a formidable guerrilla army, expanding its operations from Cuando Cubango into Moxico and Bié while the SADF intensified its cross-border campaigns from Namibia.
Neto died on 10 September 1979 while seeking medical treatment in Moscow and was succeeded by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. Barely one month later Ronald Reagan became President of the United States, immediately adopting a harder line with Angola: The Cubans were absolutely to be driven out of Angola.
In elections held in February 1980; the leader of the leftist Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and outspoken opponent of apartheid, Robert Mugabe, was elected president, ending white minority rule in Zimbabwe. Losing its last ally (Rhodesia) in the region, South Africa adopted the policy of "Total Onslaught" vowing "to strike back at any neighbouring states which harboured anti-apartheid forces". On 10 June 1980 Pretoria launched its largest operation since World War II, 180 km into Angolan territory, during which, for the first time, it was attacked by the FAPLA. In the following September, the SADF assisted UNITA in the capture of Mavinga.
In the early 1980s, the United States, in their endeavour to get the USSR and Cuba out of Angola, became directly involved in negotiations with Angola. Angola pointed out it could safely reduce the number of Cuban troops and Soviet advisors if it wasn't for the continuing South African incursions and threat at its southern border. The most obvious solution was an independent Namibia which South Africa had to give up. After having to accept a leftist regime in Angola, Pretoria was reluctant to relinquish control of Namibia because of the possibility that the first elections would bring its "traditional nemesis", SWAPO, to power. It continued to attend negotiating sessions of the Contact Group throughout the early 1980s, always prepared to bargain but never ready to settle. Cuba, not involved in the negotiations, basically agreed to such a solution paving the way to Namibia's freedom. Yet, towards the end of Reagan's second term in office, the negotiations had not born any fruit.
After the UN-sponsored talks on the future of Namibia failed in January 1981, (South Africa walked out of the Pre-Implementation Conference in Geneva on 13 January in April 1981 the new American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Crocker, took up negotiations combining 'constructive engagement with South Africa' with the 'linkage' proposal (independence for Namibia in change for Cuba's withdrawal). Both Angola and South Africa deeply distrusted the US for various reasons and the idea was rejected. It continued to be the basis of further negotiations; yet, the Contact Group members as well as the 'frontline states' (states bordering South Africa) were opposed to linking Namibian independence with Cuban withdrawal. Despite its overwhelming presence in Angola, the Cubans remained uninvited to the negotiations.
The same year, South African military activity increased against Angolan targets and SWAPO guerrillas. On 23 August 1981, the SADF launched an invasion Operation Protea with eleven thousand troops penetrating 120 kilometres into southwestern Angola and occupying about 40,000 km² in southern Cunene (holding the territory until 1988). Bases were established in Xangongo and N'Giva. The South Africans not only fought SWAPO but also wanted FAPLA out of the border area and openly intensified assaults on Angolan economic targets. The US vetoed a UN Resolution condemning the invasion, instead insisting on Cuba's withdrawal from Angola. Within five months of the South African invasion the Soviets started a new two-year military programme for the FAPLA to which Cuba committed another 7,000 troops. FAPLA-Cuban forces refrained from larger actions against South African operations, which were routinely undertaken deep into Angolan territory following Operation Protea. Through 1982 and 1983 the SAAF also participated in operations by UNITA, which gained more and more control of south-eastern Angola. The attacks by far exceeded the previous hit and -run operations and were aimed primarily at the Benguela Railway. Increasingly Cubans got involved in the fighting, either because they had garrisons in the embattled area or because they came to the rescue of FAPLA units under attack. The civil war had a crippling effect on the Angolan economy, especially agriculture and infrastructure, created hundreds of thousands of refugees. UNITA guerrillas took foreign technicians as hostages.
On 6 December 1983 Pretoria launched its twelfth incursion, Operation Askari, in pursuit of SWAPO which was also to inflict as much damage as possible on FAPLA's increasing military presence in southern Angola. In protest, France and shortly after Canada, left the UN Contact Group. On 20 December the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution (546) demanding withdrawal and reparations by South Africa. Unlike during Operation Protea this operation was met with strong resistance by the FAPLA-Cuban forces leading to the fiercest fighting since independence. A battle ensued after a SADF attack on a SWAPO camp near Cuvelei (northern Cunene) on 3 – 7 January 1984. Although SWAPO suffered a severe defeat in this campaign the South Africans were unable to unseat the FAPLA from bases at Cahama, Mulondo and Caiundo as it had planned. Under growing international pressure Pretoria stopped the operation and retreated south of the border on 15 January but kept the garrisons in Calueque, N'Giva and Xangongo. A cease fire between Angola and South Africa was signed on 31 January, the first treaty between Luanda and Pretoria. Peace negotiations were taken up again and in February 1984 Crocker met with Angolans and South Africans in Lusaka, Zambia. The resulting first 'Lusaka Accord' of 16 February 1984 detailed the disengagement of Angolan and South African forces in southern Angola. Already during this process the accord was doomed to fail because SWAPO was not involved in the talks and continued its operations. UNITA also stepped up its raids including mine-laying, truck bombs, hostage taking and attacking foreign civilians as far north as Sumbe.
In a joint statement on 19 March 1984 Cuba and Angola announced the principles on which a Cuban withdrawal would be negotiated: unilateral withdrawal of the SADF, implementation of Resolution 435 and cessation of support for UNITA and armed actions against Angola. Cuban withdrawal would be a matter between Cuba and Angola. In a similar joint announcement in 1982 these principles had been formulated as demands. The proposal was rejected by Botha. In September 1984 Angola presented a plan calling for the retreat of all Cubans to positions north of the 13th parallel and then to the 16th parallel, again on the condition that South Africa pulled out of Namibia and respected Resolution 435. 10.000 Cuban troops around the capital and in Cabinda were to remain. A major obstacle in the negotiations was the timeline for the withdrawal of Cuban troops. While Pretoria demanded a maximum of 7 months the Cubans wanted four years. Crocker managed to reduce the Cuban's timeline to two years upon which the South Africans suggested only 12 weeks. Crocker then proposed a timeline of 2 years and a withdrawal in stages and a maximum of 6,000 troops remaining up to another year in the north. But both parties and UNITA rejected this proposal and the negotiations stalled. On 17 April Pretoria installed an 'Interim Government' in Namibia which was in direct contravention of Resolution 435. The Lusaka Accord completely fell apart when South Africa broke the cease-fire. On 20 May 1985 it sent a commando team to blow up an American-run Gulf Oil facility in northern Angola. The raid failed, but it showed that Pretoria was "not interested in a cease-fire agreement or the Namibian settlement to which a cease-fire was supposed to lead." 
On 10 July 1985 the US Congress rescinded the 10-year-old Clark Amendment. Within a year at least seven bills and resolutions followed urging aid to UNITA, including overt military support and some 15 million US dollars. As of 1986 the US openly supported UNITA.By 1986 the war reached a stalemate: FAPLA was unable to uproot UNITA in its tribal stronghold and UNITA was no serious threat to the government in Luanda. Within a week Pretoria, suffering from internal unrest and international sanctions, declared a State of Emergency.
Cuban troops were alleged to have used nerve gas against UNITA troops during the civil war. Belgian criminal toxologist Dr. Aubin Heyndrickx, studied alleged evidence, including samples of war-gas "identification kits" found after the battle at Cuito Cuanavale, claimed that "there is no doubt anymore that the Cubans were using nerve gases against the troops of Mr. Jonas Savimbi."


According to the Cubans, the overriding priority of their mission in Angola was humanitarian, not military. In the wake of Operation Carlota, around 5,000 Cuban technical, medical and educational staff were constantly posted in Angola to fill the gaps the Portuguese had left behind. "For a generation of Cubans, internationalist service in Angola represented the highest ideal of the Cuban Revolution" and for many it became a normal part of life to volunteer for an internationalist mission, principally in Angola, which lasted 18 to 24 months. In the following years, tens of thousands of volunteers were processed each year. By 1978, Angola's health system was almost completely run by Cuban doctors. After the Portuguese left the country, there was only one doctor per 100,000 inhabitants. The Cubans posted a large medical team at Luanda's University and Prenda hospitals and opend clinics in remote areas all across Angola.
At the time of independence, over 90% of the Angolan population was illiterate. Starting in June 1977, an educational programme began to take shape. 2,000 students were granted scholarships in Cuba and by 1987 there were 4,000 Angolan students studying on the "Isla de la Juventud" (Isle of Youth). In March 1978, the first Cuban 732-strong secondary school teacher brigade (Destacamento Pedagógico Internationalista) took up its work in Angola. These were later joined by 500 primary school teachers and 60 professors at Luanda's university. Through the 1980s the level was constantly held at about 2,000 teachers of all levels.
The technical programme was the largest branch of Cuba's humanitarian mission as Angola was desperate for technicians to oversee the reconstruction projects. Cuban engineers, technicians and construction workers worked on construction sites, especially repairing the badly damaged infrastructure (bridges, roads, buildings, telecommunication etc.) of the country. The first teams arrived in January 1977 and in the following 5 years they built 2,000 houses in Luanda and 50 new bridges, reopened several thousand km of road, electricity and telephone networks. Attempts to revive Angolan coffee and sugar cane production soon failed due to the spread of war with UNITA. According to Cubatecnica, the government office for non-military foreign assistance, there were more Cuban volunteers than could be accepted and long waiting lists. Cuba's engagement laid the foundations for Angola's social services. 


With the withdrawal of South Africa, FNLA and UNITA resistance crumbled and the MPLA was left in sole possession of power. With the help of its Cuban allies the MPLA "not only vanquished its bitterest rivals – the FNLA and UNITA – but in the process had seen off the CIA and humbled the mighty Pretoria war machine."  Whatever remained of UNITA retreated into the Angolan bush and Zaire. A number of African countries publicly discredited UNITA for its links with the apartheid regime, the CIA and white mercenaries.
The United Nations Security Council met to consider "the act of aggression committed by South Africa against the People's Republic of Angola" and on 31 March 1976, branded South Africa the aggressor, demanding it compensate Angola for war damages. Internationally South Africa found itself completely isolated and the failure of its Operation Savannah left it "without a single crumb of comfort"."The internal repercussions of the Angolan debacle were felt quickly when, on 16 June 1976 – emboldened by the FAPLA-Cuban victory – the Soweto Uprising began, inaugurating a period of civil unrest which was to continue up until and beyond the collapse of apartheid." Another setback for Pretoria within four years was the end of white minority rule in Rhodesia as it emerged as the next black-ruled nation of Zimbabwe, completing the total geographic isolation of apartheid South Africa.
Angola obtained recognition by the OAU on 10 February 1976 and was soon recognized by the majoritiy of the international community albeit not by the US. The US was unable to prevent its admittance to the UN General Assembly as its 146th member.
At the height of the deployment in 1976, Cuba had 36,000 military personnel stationed in Angola. The FNLA had all but disappeared from the scene and what remained of UNITA was hiding in the bush or had receded to Zaire. At their meeting in Conakry on 14 March 1976, when victory was already assured, Castro and Neto decided that the Cubans would withdraw gradually, leaving behind for as long as necessary enough men to organize a strong, modern army, capable of guaranteeing Angola's future internal security and national independence without outside help. The Cubans had no intention to get bogged down in a lengthy internal counter-insurgency and started to reduce their presence in Angola as planned after the retreat of the South Africans. By the end of May, more than 3,000 troops had already returned to Cuba, and many more were on the way. By the end of the year the Cuban troops had been reduced to 12,000.
The Cubans had high hopes that after their victory in Angola, in co-operation with the USSR, they could remove all of southern Africa from the influence of the US and China. In Angola, they put up dozens of training camps for Namibian (SWAPO), Rhodesian (ZAPU) and South African (ANC) guerrillas. An SADF intelligence report in 1977 concluded "that SWAPO's standard of training had improved significantly because of the training they had received from the Cuban instructors". Cuba saw its second main task in training and equipping the Angolan army FAPLA which the Soviets generously supplied with sophisticated weapons including tanks and an own air force with MiG-21 fighters.
In early 1977, the new Carter administration had in mind to recognize the MPLA-government despite of the presence of Cuban troops assuming they would be withdrawn once the Namibian issue was settled and the southern border of Angola was secure. On 25 January, UN ambassador Andrew Young said: There is a sense in which the Cubans bring a certain stability and order to Angola. The Angolan government and Cuban troops had control over all southern cities by 1977, but roads in the south faced repeated UNITA attacks. Savimbi expressed his willingness for rapprochement with the MPLA and the formation of a unity, socialist government, but he insisted on Cuban withdrawal first. "The real enemy is Cuban colonialism," Savimbi told reporters, warning, "The Cubans have taken over the country, but sooner or later they will suffer their own Vietnam in Angola."
On the international stage, Cuba's victory against South Africa boosted Castro's image as one of the top leaders in the Non-Aligned Movement of which he was secretary-general from 1979 to 1983. Although with Cuba's help the MPLA-government became firmly established, Cuban attempts to hand over the defence of the country failed and it soon became drawn into Angola's counter-insurgency war against UNITA.


In light of these developments Pretoria had to decide whether it would stay in the game and bring in more troops. In late December 1975, there were heated debates between Vorster, foreign minister Muller, defence minister Botha, head of BOSS (South African Bureau of State Security) van den Bergh and a number of senior officials as to withdraw or to stay. Zaire, UNITA and the US urged South Africa to stay. But the US would not openly endorse the South African invasion and assure continuing military assistance in case of an escalation. On 30 December Vorster planned to withdraw after the OAU emergency session in Addis Ababa on 13 January to a line 50 to 80 km north of the Namibian border. "In military terms the advance had come to a halt anyway, as all attempts by Battle-Groups Orange and X-Ray to extend the war into the interior had been forced to turn back by destroyed bridges."  In early January 1976 the Cubans launched a first counter-offensive driving Foxbat from the Tongo and Medunda hills. The OAU meeting which the South Africans had hopes for finally debated the Angola issue and voted on 23 January 1976, condemning the South African invasion and demandits its withdrawal. Sobered by the Cuban's performance and by the West's cold shoulder, Pretoria chose to fold and ordered the retreat of its troops from Angola.
The sentiment of the Pretoria government at the time was expressed in a speech by Botha before South African parliament on 17 April 1978, in which he charged the US with "defaulting on a promise to give them all necessary support in their campaign to defeat the MPLA" : "Against which neighbouring states have we taken aggressive steps? I know of only one occasion in recent years, when we crossed a border and that was in the case of Angola when we did so with the approval and knowledge of the Americans. But they left us in the lurch. We are going to retell that story: the story must be told and how we, with their knowledge, went in there and operated in Angola with their knowledge, how they encouraged us to act and, when we had nearly reached the climax, we were ruthlessly left in the lurch".
Once the decision was made, South Africa rapidly withdrew its forces towards Namibia. In late January, the SADF abandoned the towns of Cela and Novo Redondo  Apart from a few skirmishes the Cubans stayed well behind the retreating South Africans and easily overcoming the remaining UNITA resistance. By early February 1976 the SADF had retreated to the far south of Angola, leaving behind mine fields and blown up bridges. UNITA's capital, Nova Lisboa (Huambo) fell into FAPLA hands on 8 February, the ports of Lobito and Benguela on 10 February. By 14 February control of the Benguala railway was complete and on 13 March UNITA lost its last foothold in far south-eastern Angola, Gago Gouthinho (Lumbala N'Guimbo). It is in this attack that the Cubans for the first time employed their airforce. Four to five thousand SADF troops kept a strip along the Namibian border up to 80 km deep until Angola at least gave assurance that it wouldn't supply bases for SWAPO and that it would continue to supply electricity to Namibia from the Cunene dams. While the Cubans and FAPLA were slowly approaching the southern border, South Africa and Angola took up indirect negotiations about South African withdrawal brokered by the British and Soviet governments. Neto ordered FAPLA and the Cubans to halt at a distance to the border, forestalling a "clash that some feared might trigger an all-out black war to 'liberate' white-ruled southern Africa". In exchange for South African recognition he offered to guarantee the safety of South Africa's 180 million US$ investment in the Cunene hydroelectric complex. On 25 March Botha announced the total withdrawal of South African troops from Angola by 27 March 1976. On 27 March the last 60 military vehicles crossed the border into Namibia.



SADF advance is stopped
Scope of SADF-operations.
By the time FAPLA and the Cubans were able to turn more attention to the southern front after the battle of Quifangondo, the South Africans had gained considerable ground. On 6 and 7 November 1975 Zulu took the harbour cities of Benguela (terminal of the Benguela railroad) and Lobito which had been unexpectedly abandoned. The towns and cities taken by the SDAF were handed over to UNITA. In central Angola, at the same time, combat unit Foxbat had moved 800 km north toward Luanda.] By then it became clear that Luanda could not be taken by independence day on 11 November and the South Africans considered to break off the advance and retreat. But on 10 November 1975 Vorster gave in to UNITA's urgent request to keep up the military pressure with the aim of capturing as much territory as possible before the upcoming meeting of the OAU. Thus, Zulu and Foxbat continued north with two new battle groups formed further inland (X-Ray and Orange) and "there was little reason to think the FAPLA would be able to stop this expanded force from capturing Luanda within a week."  Through November and December 1975, the SADF presence in Angola numbered 2,900 to 3,000 personnel.
Zulu now faced stronger resistance advancing on Novo Redondo after which fortunes changed in favour of the FAPLA and the Cubans. The first Cuban reinforcements arrived in Porto Amboim, only a few km north of Novo Redondo, quickly destroying three bridges crossing the Queve river, effectively stopping the South African advance along the coast on 13 November 1975. Despite concerted efforts to advance north to Novo Redondo, the SADF was unable to break through FAPLA defences. In a last successful advance a South African task force and UNITA troops took Luso on the Benguela railway on 11 December which they held until 27 December.
By mid-December South Africa extended military service and called in reserves. "An indication of the seriousness of the situation …. is that one of the most extensive military call-ups in South African history is now taking place". By late December Cuba had deployed 3,500 to 4,000 troops in Angola, of which 1,000 were securing Cabinda  and eventually the tide turned in favour of the MPLA. Apart from being "bogged down" on the southern front, South Africa had to deal with two other major setbacks: the international press taking note of the operation and the shift in US policies.



The South Africans had managed to keep their invasion hidden from world view for quite some time. It even took the MPLA until 23 October 1976 to notice that not white mercenaries, but the SADF was advancing on Luanda. Yet it took another whole month for the world press to take notice: A day after the South African coastal advance was stopped, two correspondents from Reuters and British Independent Television News published news that South Africans were fighting in Angola. On 23 November 1975 a major Western newspaper, the Washington Post, announced that regular South African troops were fighting inside Angola. Although other papers were still slow to follow, e.g. the New York Times on 12 December, the fact eventually became internationally known. Even the South African population itself had been kept in the dark and it was only on 19 December that the people learnt more about what was called the "Border War", when papers published pictures of SADF soldiers captured by FAPLA and the Cubans.


It was several days before the US realised the severity of the FNLA defeat at Quifangondo, but even then had little idea of the extent of the Cuban involvement. The news from the southern front was, in their view, still positive. Kissinger, like the South Africans, was shaken by the scale of the Soviet and Cuban response. The CIA's Angolan task force at CIA headquarters at Langley had been so confident of success by the Zairian and South African regulars, that on 11 November the members had celebrated Angolan independence with wine and cheese in their crepe paper decorated offices.[23] The US had not commented on the South African invasion of Angola but denounced the Cuban intervention when it first acknowledged Cuban troops in Angola in an official statement on 24 November 1975. Kissinger said "that US efforts at rapprochement with Cuba would end should 'Cuban armed intervention in the affairs of other nations struggling to decide their own fate' continue."  On 28 February 1976, Ford called Castro "an international outlaw" and the Cuban intervention a "flagrant act of aggression".
Due to the hostility between the USA and Cuba, the Americans regarded such an air by the Cubans as a defeat which could not be accepted. The US assumed that the USSR was behind the Cuban interference. On 9 December Ford asked the Soviets to suspend the airlift, still assuming it was a Soviet-run operation. The Americans also depicted the motivations and timings of the Cubans differently: They claimed that South Africa had to intervene after Cuba sent troops in support of the MPLA and that the war in Angola was a major new challenge to US power by an expansionist Moscow newly confident following communist victories in Vietnam War. Only years later it became clear to them, that the Cubans acted on their own behalf.
Castro responded to the US reaction: "Why were they vexed? Why had they planned everything to take possession of Angola before November 11? Angola is a country rich in resources. In Cabinda there is lots of oil. Some imperialists wonder why we help the Angolans, which interests we have. They are used to thinking that one country helps another one only when it wants its oil, copper, diamonds or other resources. No, we are not after material interests and it is logical that this is not understood by the imperialist. They only know chauvinistic, nationalistic and selfish criteria. By helping the people of Angola we are fulfilling a fundamental duty ofInternationalism.
On 3 December 1975, in a meeting with officials from the US and China including Deng Xiaoping (Vice Premier and deputy of Mao Zedong), Chiao Kuan-hua (Foreign Minister), President Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State / Foreign Minister), Brent Scowcroft (Assistant to the President for NSA) and George H. W. Bush (Chief of US Liaison Office in Peking) international issues were discussed, one of them being Angola. Although China had supported the MPLA in the past, they now sided with the FNLA and UNITA. China was especially concerned about African sensitivities and pride and considered South African involvement as the primary and relative complex problem. Kissinger responded, that the US is prepared to "push out South Africa as soon as an alternative military force can be created". It is in this meeting that President Ford told the Chinese: "We had nothing to do with the South African involvement, and we will take action to get South Africa out, provided a balance can be maintained for their not being in". He also said that he had approved 35 million US dollars more (in support of the north) above what had been done before. They discussed and agreed who should support the FNLA or UNITA by which means and in what manner taking into account the sensitivities of the neighbouring countries.
It was only when the US administration asked Congress for US$28 million for IAFEATURE that Congress really paid attention to the events in Angola. By then "the evidence of the South African invasion was overwhelming and the stench of US-collusion with Pretoria hung in the air. Worse, the growing numbers of Cuban troops had derailed the CIA's plans and the administration seemed at a loss what to do next."] The money was not approved and on 20 December 1975, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment banning covert assistance to anti-Communist forces and curtailing CIA involvement in Angola. Later that winter, an amendment to the foreign aid bill sponsored by Dick Clark extended the ban. (Clark Amendment)  The US administration resorted to other means of support for FNLA and UNITA of which one was raising mercenaries. The CIA initiated a covert programme to recruit Brazilians and Europeans, mostly Portuguese and British, to fight in the north of Angola. Altogether they managed to enlist around 250 men, but by the time meaningful numbers arrived in January 1975 the campaign in the north was all but over. Other ways of continued support for the FNLA and UNITA were through South Africa and other US client states such as Israel and Morocco.
A report by Henry Kissinger of 13 January 1976 gives an insight into the activities and hostilities in Angola, inter alia:
"2. There follows an updated situation report based on classified sources.
A: Diplomatic
·         (1) Two Cuban delegations were present in Addis Ababa. During the just concluded OAU meeting, one delegation, headed by Osmany Cienfuegos, PCC ? Official concerned with Africa and Middle East and member of the PCC Central Committee, visited the Congo, Nigeria, Uganda and Algeria prior to the OAU meeting. Another Cuban delegation was headed by Cuba's ambassador Ricardo Alarcon.
·         (2) In late December early January a MPLA delegation visited Jamaica, Guyana, Venezuela and Panama to obtain support for its cause. The delegation is still in the region.
B: Military
·         (1) It is estimated that Cuba may now have as many as 9,000 troops in Angola, based on the number of Cuban airlifts and sealifts which have presently transited Angola. Military assistance to the MPLA may have cost Cuba the equivalent of US dollars 30 million. This figure includes the value of the military equipment that Cuba has sent to Angola, the costs of transporting men and material, and the cost of maintaining troops in the field.
·         (2) Cuban troops bore the brunt of fighting in the MPLA offensive in the northern sector last week which resulted in MPLA capture of Uige (Carmona). The MPLA may be preparing for an offensive in the south, partially at the request of the SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization).
·         (3) Eight Soviet fighters, probably MiG-17s, are reported being assembled in Luanda. These fighters arrived from an unknown source at the end of December. Eight MiGs, type unknown, are expected to be sent to Angola from Nigeria, numerous Cuban pilots arrived during December. The pilots are operating many aircraft now available to the MPLA including a Fokker Friendship F-27. The Cubans will operate the MiGs.
·         (4) Cuban troops are in complete control of Luanda by January 9. They are conducting all security patrols, operating police checkpoints, and will apparently soon assume control of Luanda's airport complex.
·         (5) Cuba may have begun to use 200 passenger capacity IL-62 aircraft (Soviet) in its airlift support operations. The IL-62 has double the capacity of Bristol Britannias and IL-18 which Cuba has previously employed and has a longer range as well. IL-62 left Havana for Luanda Jan. 10. and Jan. 11.
C: Other:
·         All Portuguese commercial flights now landing at Luanda carry as cargo as much food as possible. Food supplies available to the general population have become tight.
"US intelligence estimated that by December 20 there were 5,000 to 6,000 Cubans in Angola." "Cuban sources, however, indicate that the number hovered around 3,500 to 4,000." This more or less would have put the Cubans at par with the South Africans on the southern front. Gabriel García Márquez wrote that Kissinger remarked to Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez: 'Our intelligence services have grown so bad that we only found out that Cubans were being sent to Angola after they were already there.' At that moment, there were many Cuban troops, military specialists and civilian technicians in Angola — more even than Kissinger imagined. Indeed, there were so many ships anchored in the bay of Luanda that by February 1976 Neto said to a functionary close to him: 'It's not right', if they go on like that, the Cubans will ruin themselves.' It is unlikely that even the Cubans had foreseen that their intervention would reach such proportions. It had been clear to them right from the start, however, that the action had to be swift, decisive, and at all costs successful. But one result of the events in Angola in 1976 was the American's heightened attention to African affairs, especially in the south of the continent. Kissinger worried, "if the Cubans are involved there, Namibia is next and after that South Africa itself." With the need to distance themselves from outcasts in the eyes of black Africa this also meant the US would drop support for the white regime in Rhodesia, a price it was willing to pay to "thwart communism".