Angola Table of Contents
The Angolan armed forces were equipped, trained, and supported almost exclusively by communist countries. The Soviet Union provided the bulk of FAPLA's armaments and some advisers, whereas Cuba furnished most of the technical assistance, combat support, and training advisory services. Cubans also participated to a limited extent in ground and air combat. Other communist countries, particularly Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Poland, and Yugoslavia, also furnished arms and related aid. In the 1980s, Angola also obtained limited amounts of matériel, military assistance, and training from countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), France, Spain, and Switzerland. Broadly speaking, there was an international division of labor in which the Soviet Union supplied large quantities of heavy weapons and equipment, other communist states furnished small arms, and the noncommunist suppliers provided mostly nonlethal items.
The MPLA owed its ascendancy in the civil war in large part to the massive Soviet airlift of arms and Cuban troops during 1975 and 1976. Subsequently, Moscow and Havana remained the mainstays of the regime as far as its military needs were concerned. From 1982 to 1986, the Soviet Union delivered military equipment valued at US$4.9 billion, which represented more than 90 percent of Angola's arms imports and one-fourth of all Soviet arms deliveries to Africa. Poland and Czechoslovakia transferred arms valued at US$10 million and US$5 million, respectively, over the same five-year period. During 1987 and 1988, Moscow more than compensated for FAPLA losses with accelerated shipments of heavy armaments. In addition to the tanks noted earlier, dozens of aircraft, heavy weapons, and air defense systems were delivered.
Beyond matériel deliveries, Moscow and its allies continued to provide extensive technical aid. Soviet military, security, and intelligence personnel and advisers helped establish the defense and security forces and served as advisers at all levels, from ministries in Luanda to major field commands. The Soviet Union's civilian and military intelligence services, in coordination with their counterpart organizations from other communist countries, particularly East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, assisted in the creation and development of the Angolan state security and intelligence services.
The Soviet Union provided most of the air force pilot and technician training as well as technical assistance in the operation and maintenance of the most advanced equipment: aircraft and warships, major weapons such as missiles, artillery, and rockets, and sophisticated radar and communications equipment. The number of Soviet service members and advisers varied. In 1988 it was estimated by most sources to range between 1,000 and 1,500 personnel, including some fighter pilots. UNITA claimed that the Soviet military presence increased during 1988 to 2,500 or 3,000 and that seven officers were assigned to each FAPLA brigade.
Cuba was the main provider of combat troops, pilots, advisers, engineers, and technicians. As the insurgency war expanded, so did Cuba's military presence. By 1982 there were 35,000 Cubans in Angola, of which about 27,000 were combat troops and the remainder advisers, instructors, and technicians. In 1985 their strength increased to 40,000, in 1986 to 45,000, and in 1988 to nearly 50,000. All told, more than 300,000 Cuban soldiers had served in Angola since 1975. Angola paid for the services of the Cubans at an estimated rate of US$300 million to US$600 million annually.
The Cuban forces, despite their numbers, generally did not engage directly in combat after 1976. Most of the Cubans were organized and deployed in motorized infantry, air defense, and artillery units. Their main missions were to deter and defend against attacks beyond the southern combat zone, protect strategic and economically critical sites and facilities, and provide combat support, such as rear-area security, logistic coordination, air defense, and security for major military installations and Luanda itself. At least 2,000 Cuban troops were stationed in oil-producing Cabinda Province. Cubans also trained Angolan pilots, and flew some combat missions against UNITA and the SADF. In addition, Cuban military personnel provided technical and operational support to SWAPO and the ANC within Angola (see Angola as a Refuge , this ch.).
In mid-1988 Cuba substantially reinforced its military presence in Angola and deployed about one-fifth of its total forces toward the front lines in the south for the first time. This cohort was reported to include commando and SAM units, which raised concerns about direct clashes with South African forces. The move was apparently made to keep UNITA and the SADF at bay and to strengthen the negotiating position of Luanda and Havana in the United Statesbrokered peace talks.
East Germany and North Korea followed the Soviet Union and Cuba as Angola's most active and influential communist supporters. The East Germans played key roles in the intelligence and security agencies, as well as in the ideology and propaganda organs. They provided communications security services, technicians, mechanics, and instructors to maintain and operate equipment and vehicles and to train artillery crews, radar operators, and combat pilots. The East Germans also reportedly operated a training camp south of Luanda for ANC and SWAPO guerrillas. Estimates of the number of East Germans in Angola ranged from 500 to 5,000, the higher estimates probably including family members and other nonmilitary technicians and advisers.
During the 1980s, North Korea expanded and intensified its diplomatic and military assistance activities in Africa, particularly in the southern part of the continent. After training Zimbabwe's Fifth Brigade in 1981 and 1982 and furnishing arms to that country, North Korea made a major military commitment in Angola. Although denied by Angolan officials, several sources reported that Luanda concluded a military aid agreement with Pyongyang in September 1983 that led to the dispatch of some 3,000 North Korean combat troops and military advisers by May 1984.
The reported activities of the North Koreans included the training of special units, such as hit-and-run forces and sniper squads. North Korean troops also reportedly engaged in combat operations, including FAPLA's early 1986 offensive. North Koreans were also reported to be providing military and ideological instruction to SWAPO and ANC militants in five training camps north and northeast of Luanda.
Other communist states provided more modest military support. Arms deliveries by Poland and Czechoslovakia were noted earlier. A military cooperation agreement was signed in 1982 with Hungary, which was reported to have provided small arms. Yugoslavia furnished grenade launchers, trip-wire grenades, antipersonnel mines, hollow-charge rockets, and air defense artillery; a Yugoslav firm also built a runway and other facilities at Lubango airport. Romania was reported to have given unspecified military aid.
Data as of February 1989
Angola Table of Contents