Angola Tests the Reagan Doctrine

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Angola Tests the Reagan Doctrine

November 14, 1985 14 min read Download Report
Roger A.

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470 November 14, 1985 ANGOLA TESTS THE REAGAN DOCTRINE INTRODUCTION Angolan government troops, backed by Cuban forces and directed by Soviet battle commanders, have been escalating their military campaign against the promWestern insurgents of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Savimbi. Heavily resupplied by the Soviet Union over the past eighteen months, and bolstered by as many as 7,000 extra Cuban troops - -bringing their total to more than 35,000 --government forces launched their most serious offensive yet in their ten-year-old war against UNITA. Their goal: the capture of Jamba, UNITAIs headquarters in southeastern Angola, and the destruction of Savimbil s formidable fighting forces.

The combat has been fierce. On September 28, the Luanda government claimed that Savimbi hadzabandoned his base at Jamba and withdrawn into neighboring Namibia.

October 8, brought Western journalists to the Loqa River to see t he remains of a decimated MPLA-PT mechanized column. UNITA had blunted Savimbi denied this and on 1. The additional 5,000 to 7,000 Cubans were troops that had been transferred from service in Ethiopia, according to a CIA analyst. See Peter Clement Moscow a nd Southern Africa in Problems of Communism, March-April 1985, p 34. Regarding the total number of Cuban troops, see David B. Ottoway U.S. Weighs Angolan Rebel Aid The Washington Post October 16, 1985, p. A29 2. Allister Sparks Rebels Driven from Base, An g olan Government Claims The Washinnton Post. September 29, 1985, p. A23 3. The official name of the communist party that rules Angola is The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Workers Party (MPLA-PT Its army is the Popular Armed Forces for the L i beration of Angola, or FAPLA. I I I I I I A Airport A Intornotional airport Main road Secondary rad Main railway SOUTH WEST AFRICA (NA.MIBIA E I I 0 krn 300 I 29 the Angolan offensive 20 miles northwest of Mavingfi, a key UNITA stronghold, and had forced the MPLA-PT to retreat. For the'moment at least, Savimbi had won.

This one tests the Reagan Doctrine's commitment to help Freedom Fighters and push back the frontiers of communist domination battle, U.S. officials have been wrestling with the question of W ashington's policy toward Savimbi. His forces are genuine Freedom Fighters as defined by the Reagan Doctrine and thus clearly deserve U.S. backing. This is recognized on Capitol Hill by Republicans and Democrats alike humanitarian aid for UNITA was introd uced on October 1; a bill providing a similar amount in military aid was introduced October 24.

Inexplicably, the State Department is actively opposing these bipartisan measures, even though they simply translate the Reagan Doctrine into action. Secretary of State George Shultz even has gone so far as to write House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois asking him to block the. legislation In Washington, meanwhile, a different battle has been raging.

In this In the House, legislation calling forS$27 million in This understandably puzzles some of Shultz's colleagues in the Administration. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA Director Willtam Casey apparently are pushing for substantial covert aid to UNITA key to MOSCOW~S strategy for the region, providing a stable base for SWAP0 guerrillas to destabilize Namibia They recognize'that since 1976, Angola has been the The Administration now must make up its mind. Does it or does it not take serious l y the Reagan Doctrine's pledge to aid Freedom Fighters? If it is more than empty rhetoric, the White House must direct the State Department to embrace and back vigorously Congress bipartisan efforts to help UNITA 4. Allister Sparks Angolan Forces Fall Bac k from Site of Heavy Battle," The Washington post. October 9, 1985, p. Al; Michael Sullivan Costly Rebel Victory in 'A Land God Forgot The Washinaton Times, October 9, 1985, p. 1A 5. Bob Robinson Bill Asks $27 Million to Aid Angolan Rebels," The Washinaton Times October 3, 1985, p. 1A 6. David B. Ottoway Angola Rebel Aid is Pushed," The Washington Post, November 1 1985, p. Al. On the Secretary of State's letter to the Minority Leader, see James Morrison Shultz Works Against Bill To Aid UNITA Anti-Marxists T he Washinaton Times October 23, 1985, p. 1A 3ROOTS OF THE PROBLEM Ten years ago, the departing Portuguese colonial government signed an agreement with the three Angolan independence movements.

The Alvor Agreement created a coalition government made up of t he MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA, which was to hold elections. Before they could be held, the MPLA imported 13,000 Cuban troops and Soviet advisors and ousted the other two movements. The FNLA disbanded, while Savimbi and his UNITA forces retreated into Angola's southeastern corner, an area labelled by the Portuguese as "The Land That God Forgot."

Frop his redoubt, Savimbi has forged a powerful fighting machine. In 1981, with his troops numbering 50,000, he recaptured Mavinga, a small town 150 miles to the northea st of Jamba. With its hard-packed gravel airstrip, Mavinga became a key logistical center for UNITA and the base for its supply lines to the north.

In August 1983, Savimbi launched a successful assault against the MPLA-PT garrison at Cangamba in central A ngola. The two-week battle the first major conventional UNITA attack against MPLA-PT forces, was a turning point in the war. It confirmed Savimbi as a serious threat to the Luanda regime, forced the Angolan communists to shift away from tentative negotiat ions with South Africa and back to thf battlefield and forced Moscow and Havana to reassess the situation.

Immediately following the battle, Lucio Lara, beliewed tp be the leader of the MPLA-PT's pro-Soviet faction, rushed to Moscow. The Soviets apparently decided to reinforce their Angolan clients and began sending massive amounts of arms to Luanda, including T-62 heavy tanks, MiG-23 jet fighters, SU-22 fighter bombers, and MI-24 helicopter gunships. This bolstered an arsenal which already included MiG-l7 s, MiG-2ls, and hundreds of T-54/55 and PT-76 tanks.

Concurrently, the Soviets installed a new air defense line in southern Angola, deploying radars and SA-8 surface-to-air missiles. In November and December 1983, additional Cuban troops were tran3ferred t o Angola from Ethiopia, bringing the total number to 35,000 7. For a more detailed overview of the growth of UNITA, see Edward P. Cain, "The Agony of Angola" in Charles Moser, ed Combat on Communist Territorv (Lake Bluff, Illinois Regnery-Gateway 1985 8. S ee Clement, OD. cit 9. Tbid pp. 32, 34 10. Ibid 4Through last year and the first half of this year, the Soviets restocked the MPLA-PTIs arsenal By this August, government forces had over 500 Soviettanks, including 30 T-62s; over 100 sophisticated Soviet f ighter aircraft, including about 30 MiG-23s and 70 MiG-21s and roughly 25 deadly MI-24 helicopter gunships. The xalue of these arms transfers has been estimated at 1 to $2 billion.

THE SOVIET OFFENSIVE The Soviet offensive began in earnest in late July, wi th a two-pronged assault. The strategic objective of the first prong was the capture of the Cazombo salient, an area of eastern Angola which juts into neighboring Zambia. It has the psychological importance of being the birthplace of the MPLA. Its recaptu re, and with it the reopening of the Benguela railway linking the mineral wealth of eastern Angola to the west coast ports, would provide a tremendous morale boost to MPLA-PT forces.

The assault was launched from recently recaptured Menongue, with air cove r from Luena on the Benguela railway brigades, directed by Soviet commanders who coordinated ground artillery, and air attacks, moved against UNITA positions. The advantages of direct Soviet operational control down to the battalion and possibly even plat o on, .level were immediately evident: where MPLA-PT troops previously had advanced only until they encountered strong enemy fire and then fell back, this time they fought on.under heavy fire. Savimbi inflicted hundreds of casualties on the attackers was ou t manned and outgunned, he withdrew his forces to the south, where he anticipated the next thrust Four government But rather than risk a major conventional battle where he The objective of the second Soviet-led prong was the occupation Built up over the las t several years, Jamba is of Jamba itself.

UNITA's political, social, and cultural headquarters. With a population of 10,000 and factories, schools, and hospitals, it is Savimbils showplace in the Angolan bush. Its loss would be a devastating blow to UNITA officers. Soviet and Cuban pilots flew the Angolan Air Force's Four brigades of government troops were commanded by Soviet 11. Ottoway U.S. Weighs Angolan Rebel Aid 9 cit 5MiG-2ls, MiG-23s, SU-22s, and MI;;24s, according to an Angolan pilot shot down and captured by UNITA.

On September 26, Savimbi launched a counterattack, leading 5,500 UNITA soldiers against the 4,600 MPLA-PT troops caught between Mavinga and the river. Trapped in the loose, sandy soil of southeastern Angola, the Soviet armored vehicles and tanks were sitting ducks for the more mobile UNITA forces. The result was an overwhelming UNITA victory behind 2,300 dead MPLA-PT troops; 410 UNITA soldiers were dead By one account, MPLA-PT losses included 79 vehicles destroyed, 52 captured, and 22 a i rcraft downed--including several MI-24s and at least one MiG-21 On September 29, Soviet commanders ordered retreat, lEaving REASONS FOR THE OFFENSIVE Several factors apparently prompted the Soviets-and Angolans to launch their offensive. For one thing, Mo s cow surely wanted to bolster a client regime in geostrategically important southern Africa and to appear tough before the Geneva summit with Ronald Reagan. For another, Moscow probably wanted to shatter the Lusaka Accord and demonstrate to the black Afric a n states the vulnerability and weakness of U.S. diplomacy, which had backed the accord. For the Angolans questions of prestige were involved, along with internal debates within the MPLA-PT politburo The Soviets and the MPLA also almost certainly felt that they had to check Savimbils advances. July 1985 had been UNITAIs best month ever. W#h 60,000 troops--34,000 guerrillas and 26,000 regulars --under his command, Savimbi had mounted hundreds of attacks all over the country that month MOSCOW~S decision to at t ack in Angola seems part of a worldwide pattern of Soviet offensives that include Afghanistan, Ethiopia Mozambique, and Nicaragua. This may be part of MOSCOW~S pre-summit 12. Sparks Angolan Forces Fall Back The Angolan pilot, Franciscoe Matamba, told repo r ters he had spent three years in the Soviet Union learning to fly Soviet MiG aircraft 13. "UNITA's Savimbi Holds Press Conference Foreinn Broadcast Information Service Daily-Middle East and Africa, October 9, 1985, p. U4 14. Sullivan OD. cit 15 R. Evans a n d R. Novak The Soviet Move in Angola," The Washinnton Post, September 30, 1985 6post1 ring but would be daring the U.S. Congress to deliver on its much-ballyhooed new support for anti-communist insurgencies hosting the Ministerial Conference of Non-Aligne d Nations in September and was anxious to undermine the image of UNITA as a viable force.

Luanda probably feared that several of the delegations to the conference would call for negotiations that could lead to an Angolan coalition government as had origina lly been planned under the Alvor Agreement. UNITA already had demonstrated its capability to black out the capital force Savimbi back into his base of operations Gorbachev not only would be.testing the Reagan Doctrine The MPLA-PT had its own reasons for t h e.offensive. Luanda was For good reason did the Angolan communist regime want to The MPLA-PT, moreover, had scheduled its Second Party Congress for late November and early Deceinber. One faction of the party was expected to push for negotiations with UNIT A, possibly a coalition government. The aim of this group was to appear moderate enough to get U.S. diplomatic recognition and economic aid. The hardliners, however, sought to make the question moot by crushing UNITA before the Congress.

U.S. P OLICY OPTIONS The Reagan Administration now has an -extraordinary opportunity in Angola. This is due to Savimbi's success in holding his troops together in the face of a massive Soviet-led onslaught, the rainy season which prevents another Soviet offensiv e at least until next March, and Congress' repeal of the 1976 Clark Amendment which banned U.S. aid to UNITA. Administration options include 1) Overt humanitarian aid.. Representative Claude Pepper, a long-time liberal Democrat from Florida, helped lead th e move to repeal the Clark Amendment. He now has introduced legislation in the House providing 27 million in humanitarian aid to Savimbi's forces.

Modeled on the current aid package for the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters, the funds would purchase food, clothing, and medicine neither the CIA nor the Pentagon would be allowed to administer the program will back such legislation.

It is believed thaJ the White' House assured Pepper that it 2) Economic sanctions. Representative Bill McCollum, a Republican from Florida, has introduced legislation imposing economic sanctions on the Angolan government if progress is not made toward dem o cracy in Angola; this must include negotiations with UNITA on 16. Ottoway, "Angola Rebel Aid OD. cit p. AI 7- I forming a coalition government to prepare for elections. Based on the South Africa sanctions enacted by Congress this summer, McCollum's bill w o uld restrict imports from Angola and prohibit new loans by U.S government agencies and private banks to the Angolan government 3) Declare Ancfola Communist. The State Department has not yet formally labelled the decade-old MPLA-PT regime as the Luanda reg i me is communist should be beyond doubt. Ten years ago it asked for and received massive arms supplies from Moscow; it hosts some 35,000 Cuban, Soviet, and communist bloc troops; and it has That modeled its internal policies after the Soviet-dominated regi m es of I Eastern Europe. Whether the State Department classifies a nation as lcomunistl' is of considerable substantive as well as symbolic importance. Communist nations, for example, cannot receive any U.S economic or military assistance; nor are they eli g ible for Export-Import Bank loans 4) Raise the Ancfola issue at the Geneva summit. At his meeting later this month with Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan could warn that continued Soviet interference in Angola-contradicts-Moscow's rhetoric that it is seeki ng world peace and stability warn that this Soviet intervention in Angola is going to start meeting with active U.S. resistance.

Republicans Steven Symms of Idaho and Orrin Hatch.of Utah, are pressing the Administration to give covert military aid to UNITA.

These funds could buy UNITA anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry, the arms they most need. This aid could be funnelled to UNITA through a friendly nation (as Pakistan channels U.S. covert aid to the Afghan Freedom Fighters) or the aid could be distribut ed directly to UNITA 6) Overt militarv aid. Representative Mark Siljander, a Republican from Michigan, has introduced legislation providing $27 million in overt militfp aid to UNITA. This bill already has 70 bipartisan cosponsors; ,They argue-that the tim e has come for the President to back up his rhetoric about supporting Freedom Fighters with action. And since the U.S. never has recognized the Luanda regime as the legitimate government of Angola, no laws would be broken by aiding forces seeking to overth r ow the MPLA-PT Reagan further could 5) Covert militam aid. Several Senators, including 17. Interview with Kevin Callwood, Minority Staff Consultant to the Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, October 31, 1985 8CRITICISMS OF AID TO U N ITA Critics offer four arguments against providing such aid 1) U.S aid to UNITA strengthens the Angolan government's dependence on the Soviet Union and Cuba, and thereby increases Soviet influence in the region 2) aid to UNITA undermines the three-way neg o tiations between the Angolans, the South Africans, and the U.S. over the independence of South West Africa/Namibia at a very delicate stage in the negotiations: 3) aid,to UNITA would "ally" the U.S. with South Africa thus damaging the U.S. image in southe r n Africa; and 4) aid to UNITA would widen the Angolan civil war could possibly become more dependent on the Soviets and Cubans than it already is economic assistance from the Soviet bloc, Soviet and Cuban pilots fly the combat missions for the Angolan Air force, $nd Soviet officers have taken direct control of combat operations As for the first argument, it is hard to see how the MPLA-PT The regime receives massive amounts of military and There are serious doubts, moreover, as to the ability of the Angolan communist regime to send the Cuban troops and Soviet commanders home even if they wanted to. In a conversation held with The Heritage Foundation earlier this fall, Angolan Minister of Trade Ismael Gaspar Martins could not answer in the affirmative when as k ed if the MPLA-PT would be able to remove all Soviet bloc forces if it wanted to three times he evaded it. Three times he.was asked this question very'specifically Even if U.S. aid to Savimbi would increase Soviet influence over the MPLA-PT, this would be of little consequence if Savimbi continues to win battles and eventually defeats the MPLA-PT or, at least, forces his way into a coalition government influence in southern Africa is to remove a Soviet client regime from power.

The second argument against U.S. aid is made, curiously, by Secretary of State George Shultz. He claims that negotiations between South Africa and Angola have reached a very delicate stage; as such goes the argument, U.S. aid to UNITA would cause Angola to quit the discussions. Shul t z and his principal State Department advisors feel that the only way to ease Cuban forces out of Angola is to broker an accord trading their departure for a South African withdrawal from Namibia The best way to reduce Soviet Aid to UNITA could do just tha t 18. R. Evans and R. Novak The Soviet Move in Angola," The Washinnton Post, September 30, 19

85. See also "South Africa and UNITA Station Commentary by Johannesburg Domestic Service Defense Minister cited on UNITA Support," FBTS-MEA, September 24, 1985, p u3 9The problem with this, of course, is that these negotiations have been underway for a decade and are no closer to conclusion now than when they began. The State Department, for reasons unknown, overlooks the fact that the main purpose of Cuban forces in Angola is to prop up the MPLA-PT regime is a UNITA victory over the MPLA-PT.

The only realistic hope of removing Cuban troops The third'argument is that aid to UNITA effectively would ally the U.S. with South Africa. While it is true that Pretoria aids UNITA overtly so do West European, black African, and Middle Eastern states concerned about Soviet expansionism in southern Africa. By helping UNITA, therefore, Washington also would be allying with these nations U.S. aid to UNITA, in fact, actually woul d lessen Savi.mbiIs reliance on South Africa. For one thing, U.S. aid would dilute immediately the influence of South Africa. For another, and more important, it would signal those nations already aiding UNITA that the U.S. agrees with them on the need to help Savimbi. They probably would increase their own aid, further weakening South Africa's influence.

The final argument against U.S. aid to UNITA is that it would widen the war. But this is only true if l1wideningl1 means enabling UNITA to fight effectively enough to win--and to end the civil war.

The men and women of UNITA--Angolan, nationalist, and anti-colonialist-are fighting to drive the foreign Cuban and Soviet occupying forces from Angolan soil foreign troops to help UNITA wage its war; in fact, he specifically rejects this solution. He.merely wants aid Savimbi does not want or need CONCLUSION The Soviet assumption of control of military actions in Angola is a serious escalation of Soviet intervention in southern Africa. It is a new threat to U.S. interests in that geostrategically and economically critical region. In response, the U.S. must take new actions to prevent the defeat of UNITA by Soviet-directed and Cuban-backed MPLA-PT troops.

The greatest threat to Savimbi comes from the addition of ma ssive airpower to the Angolan arsenal. The deadly MI-24 helicopter gunship already used by the Soviets in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, gives the MPLA-PT effective air cover and, when used in conjunction with high performance MiG-23 and SU-22 fighters, and i n coordination with heavy T-62 tanks, shifts the tactical balance in Angola. Savimbils forces so far have been able to destroy some of these helicopters only by attacking them on the ground with mortars anti-aircraft missiles would greatly improve UNITAIs defensive Shoulder-fired 10 - capability and would help to balance the tactical equation. Anti-tank weapons similarly would help UNITA.

Western European, black African, and Middle Eastern nations already aid UNITA. But they are hesitant to make their assis tance known publicly for fear of provoking the Soviet Union. U.S. aid to UNITA would reassure them and encourage them to boost their backing.

When the rainy season ends in March, the Soviets are sure to launch another offensive against UNITA By then, the Reagan Administration will have demonstrated whether the Reagan Doctrine and its vow to help Freedom Fighters are simply empty rhetoric or a blueprint for American policy. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, in mounting numbers want to turn that rhetor ic into policy. Perplexingly, only the Administration--and particularly the State Department--stands in the way.

William W. Pascoe, 111 Visiting Fellow 11


Roger A.