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Angola Table of Contents


Military Organization and Capability

UNITA's military wing, the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola -- FALA), was under the supreme authority of Savimbi as commander in chief. The chief of staff was second in command and controlled the headquarters elements of intelligence, personnel, logistics, and operations. In January 1985, the FALA chief of staff, Brigadier Demosthenes Amos Chilingutila, who had held that post since 1979, was removed and made chief of operations, possibly because of Savimbi's dissatisfaction with his performance, and replaced by Brigadier Alberto Joaquim Vinama. However, following Vinama's death in an automobile accident in October 1986, Chilingutila was reappointed chief of staff.

By the mid-1980s, FALA had evolved into a well-defined conventional military organization with command and specialized staff organs, a formal hierarchy of ranks, an impressive array of weapons and equipment, and considerable international support. Geographically, UNITA's nationwide area of operations consisted of five fronts commanded by a colonel or brigadier, which were subdivided into twenty-two military regions under a colonel or lieutenant colonel. The regions in turn were divided into sectors (usually three) commanded by a major and further subdivided into zones under captains or lieutenants.

FALA had a four-tiered hierarchical structure. The lowest level, the local defense forces, had six battalions of poorly armed men recruited as guards and local militia in contested areas. The next stratum consisted of dispersed guerrillas who trained in their local areas for about sixty days and then conducted operations there, either in small groups of about twenty or in larger units of up to 150. They were armed with automatic weapons and trained to attack and harass FAPLA convoys, bases, and aircraft. The third level included forty-four semi-regular battalions that received a three-month training course and were sent back to the field in units of up to 600. These forces were capable of attacking and defending small towns and strategic terrain and infrastructure. Finally, FALA regular battalions of about 1,000 troops each completed a six-month to nine-month training period, and about a quarter of them also received specialized training in South Africa or Namibia in artillery, communications, and other technical disciplines. Armed with heavy weapons plus supporting arms such as artillery, rockets, mortars, and antitank and air defense weapons, these FALA regulars had the tasks of taking territory and holding it.

By 1987 UNITA claimed to have 65,000 troops (37,000 guerrilla fighters--those in the first three categories cited above--and 28,000 regulars), but other estimates put FALA's total strength closer to 40,000. Among its specialized forces were sixteen platoons of commandos and other support units, including engineering, medicine, communications, and intelligence. In late 1987, women were integrated into FALA for the first time when a unit of fifty completed training as semi-regulars. Seven members of this group received commissions as officers.

In addition to combat forces, UNITA had an extensive logistical support infrastructure of at least 10,000 people, about 1,000 vehicles (mostly South African trucks), an expanding network of roads and landing strips, schools, hospitals, supply depots, and specialized factories, workshops and other facilities used to manufacture, repair, and refurbish equipment and weapons. The main logistical support center and munitions factory was Licua. Many smaller centers were scattered throughout UNITA-controlled territory. Like Jamba, UNITA's capital, these centers were mobile.

It was difficult to determine the conditions of service with UNITA guerrillas. Military service was voluntary and uncompensated, but soldiers and their families normally received their livelihood, even if it sometimes meant appropriating local food supplies. Moreover, political indoctrination was an essential part of military life and training. Although visitors to UNITA-controlled territory reported that the armed forces were highly motivated, FALA defectors and captives allegedly reported coercive recruiting and low morale.

FALA had a substantial arsenal of weapons and equipment of diverse origin, most of which was captured from FAPLA during attacks on convoys, raids, or pitched battles, or donated by the SADF as war booty. The remainder came from various countries and the international black market. Included in FALA's inventory were captured T-34 and T-55 tanks, armored vehicles, vehicle-mounted rocket launchers, 76mm and 122m field guns, mortars (up to 120mm), RPG-7 and 106mm antitank weapons, heavy and light machine guns, various antiaircraft guns, SA-7 and United States-manufactured Redeye and Stinger SAMs, and G-3 and AK-47 assault rifles.

Data as of February 1989

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Angola Table of Contents