The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #207 on Africa

June 29, 1988

June 29, 1988 | Executive Memorandum on Africa

Angola's Freedom Fighters: Why They Merit U.S. Aid


(Archived document, may contain errors)

6/29/88 207

ANGOLA'S FREEDOM FIGHTERS: WHY THEY MERIT U.S. AID

A s Jonas Savimbi, President of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), visits Washington this week for the first time since th e United States resumed U.S. military assistance to his freedom fighters two years ago, events are moving on several fronts that will affect the future of his struggle:

* * Four-party negotiations between the communist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) regime of Angola, their Cuban patrons, South Africa, and the U.S. have begun to explore a negotiated solution to the conflicts in Angola.. and. Namibia..

+ * At last month's Moscow summit, U.S. and Soviet officials agreed to set next September 29 as the deadline for the negotiators to reach agreement on a southern African deal.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has reinforced his contingent of combat forces in Angola by 12,000 since last January, bringing the total to an estimated 50,000. Ominously, they have been deployed within artillery range of the Angolan-Namibian border.

Turning the Tables. Amid this diplomatic and military maneuvering, Savimbi brings a simple message of gratitude and hope to Washington: gratitude for U.S. help and hope tha t, with continued help, the war will end in true peace. With U.S. assistance,,estimated.at-S30. mil- lion over the past two years, UNITA has been able to turn the tables in the 13-year war against the MPLA and its Soviet and Cuban patrons. U.S.-supplied S t inger anti-aircraft and TOW anti- tank missiles have blunted the effectiveness of the MPILA's vast arsenal of sophisticated com- bat aircraft and heavy tanks, allowing UNITA to take the offensive against MPLA garrisons in the northern provinces of Angola. It is UNITA's increasing military, successes that have forced the MPLA and the Cubans to the negotiating table. Today Savimbi"s forces control 40 percent of Angola, and, in effect, have established a government in the liberated zone.

In desperation, Castro has sent reinforcements to southwestern Angola. This has heightened U.S. and South African concerns over the MPINs sincerity in the discussions, and could be designed to provoke a South African milit ary response. Cuban forces have patrolled so close to the Namibian border that they have clashed with South African units: a battle ear- lier this week left hundreds of Cubans, Angolans, and South Africans dead.

Communist Concession. While Savimbi was arriving in Washington, U.S. diplo mats led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker were returning from the latest round of the four-party discussions, held in Cairo on June 24 and 25. Prior to his departure for Egypt, Crocker announced that discussions with MPI A representatives in Washington-had yielded a major concession: the Angolan communists had agreed to drop their demand that the U.S. terminate its assistance to UNITA. But serious doubts still;remain about the MPIXs intent in these negotiations. Do they re a lly seek a negotiated peace for Angola and inde- pendence for Namibia, or are the discussions a stalling tactic until they can reinforce their defenses? Two considerations seem to indicate that, contrary to the hopes of U.S. diplomats, the MPIA is not ser ious about the talks.

First, the timing is suspect. With a U.S. presidential election less than five months away, why would the MPIA bargain in good faith? They know that Michael Dukakis, the Democratic Party's presumptive standard-bearer, has promised tha t, if elected, he will ter- minate U.S. aid to UNITA. Why should the MPILA seek a deal now, when they would have- to give up something of value, when they stand at least an even chancei of a new Administration ending aid to UNITA unilaterally? The MPILA u n derstands, moreover, the political embar- rassment for the Reagan Administration - and for Vice President George Bush - that would come with failed negotiations. There likely would be a strong temptation within the State Department as the deadline approac h ed to accept a flawed deal in the hope it would boost the Administration's diplomatic prestige. Second, and perhaps more important, UNITA is not rep- resented in the discussions. No matter what conclusions are reached in the four-party negotia- tions, tru e peace will elude Angola until the MPIA reaches an accord with UNITA. Contrary to MPILA propaganda, UNITA is no one's "puppet." UNIrFA has fought for true inde- pendence for Angola for over two decades, first against the Portuguese Empire, and then agains t the Soviet Empire. UNITA will lay down its arms when it decides that it is in its inter- ests to do so. Savimbi long ago announced his conditions: removal of all foreign forces and the creation of a coalition government to hold free elections under inter national supervision.

Testing Sincerity. U.S. negotiators should inject these demands into the discussions. The Reagan Administration should insist that a UNITA delegation be invited to the negotiations; this should be a test of the MPIA's sincerity. Washi ngton then should test Moscow's claims of "new thinking" in its foreign policy by pressing the Kremlin to use its influence with its An- golan clients to force the MPILA to deal with UNITA. The U.S. also should demand that Mos- cow use its influence with its Cuban clients to remove the additional 12,000 Cuban soldiers from Angola. The Administration, moreover, should recognize the dangers of an artificial deadline and reject the agreed upon September 29 date.

Above all, Washington must remember what forced the MPIA and Cuba to the negotiating table. U.S. military assistance to UNITA should continue until all Cubans have withdrawn from Angola and a coalition government has been formed to hold free elections. Until that oc- curs, UNITA will continue to fight for true freedom in Angola, and any negotiations will be a waste of time. William Pascoe Policy Analyst

For further information: Fred Bridgland, Jonas Satimbi. A Key to Aftica (New York: Paragon House, 1986). William Pascoe, "In Southern Africa, the State Department Bets Against the Reagan Doctrine," Heritage Foundation Backgmnder No. 633, February 12,1988.

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