The invasion of Cabinda was conducted by three FLEC and one Zairian infantry battalions under the command of 150 French and American mercenaries. The MPLA's had the 232 Cubans of the CIR, a freshly trained and an untrained FAPLA infantry battalion at its disposal. In the ensuing battle for Cabinda from 8 – 13 November they managed to repel the invasion without support from Operation Carlota, thus saving the exclave for Angola.
Two days before independence the most imminent danger for the MPLA came from the northern front where the FNLA and its allies stood east of Quifangondo. 2,000 FNLA troops were supported by two battalions of Zairian infantry troops (1,200 men), 120 Portuguese mercenaries, a few resident advisors, among them a small CIA contingent, and 52 South Africans led by General Ben de Wet Roos. They were manning the artillery provided by the SADF which had been flown into Ambriz only two days before.
After artillery bombardment on Luanda and Quifangondo through the night and a bombing raid by the South African air force in the early hours the final attack of the FNLA was launched on the morning of 10 November. The attacking force was ambushed and destroyed by the FAPLA-Cuban forces. Cuban forces also bombarded their South African and FNLA enemies with BM-21 Grad rocket launchers which had been put into place only the night before, and were well out of range of the antiquated South African guns. The defeat of the FNLA in the Battle of Quifangondo secured the capital for the MPLA. On the same day the Portuguese handed over power "to the people of Angola" and shortly after midnight Neto proclaimed independence and the formation of the People's Republic of Angola. Urged by the CIA and other clandestine foreign services FNLA and UNITA announced the proclamation of a Democratic People's Republic with the temporary capital at Huambo. Yet, UNITA and FNLA could not agree on a united government and fighting between them already broke out in Huambo on the eve of independence day. On the day of independence the MPLA held little more than the capital and a strip of central Angola inland toward Zaire and the exclave of Cabinda. On 4 December the FAPLA-Cubans launched a counter-offensive against the FNLA. But with Luanda and Cabinda secured and the defeat of the FNLA at Quifangondo they could finally turn more attention to the south.
Cuba operated independently through December and January bringing in their troops in slowly, but steadily. Two months after the start of Operation Carlota the Soviets agreed to ten charter flights on long-range IL-62 jet airliners, starting on 8 January.This was followed one week later by an agreement that "the Soviets would supply all future weaponry … transporting it directly to Angola so that the Cuban airlift could concentrate on personnel." By early February, with increasing numbers in Cuban troops and sophisticated weaponry, the tide changed in favour of the MPLA. The final offensive in the North started on 1 January 1976. By 3 January FAPLA-Cuban forces took the FNLA air bases of Negage and Camabatela and a day later the FNLA capital of Carmona. A last-ditch attempt by FNLA to use foreign mercenaries enlisted by the CIA (see next chapter: US response) failed; on 11 January FAPLA-Cubans captured Ambriz and Ambrizete (N'zeto) an on 15 February the FNLA's last foothold, Sao Salvador. By late February one Cuban and 12 FAPLA and battalions had completely annihilated the FNLA, driving what was left of them and the Zairian army across the border.
The South African contingent on the northern front had already been evacuated by ship on 28 November. The last mercenaries left northern Angola by 17 January.