Angola Table of Contents
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. The air force and navy were even further behind and had required years to acquire the assets and the expertise needed for effective operations. Although the navy was of marginal use in the war, air power was critical. It was only after sufficient aircraft and air defense systems had been deployed in the mid-1980s that Luanda was able to launch and sustain large offensives in the south. 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.
Data as of February 1989