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Angola The Enduring Rival: UNITA
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Figure 16. Territory Claimed by UNITA, 1988

    Source: Based on information from Jonas Bernstein, "A Freedon Fight Deep in Africa," Insight, December 19, 1988, 11.

    UNITA in the 1980s was a state within a state. Under the leadership of Jonas Savimbi, it survived defeat during the civil war, retreated to the remote southeastern corner of the country, regrouped and made its headquarters at Jamba, and launched a determined campaign to overturn the MPLA-PT regime or at least force it to accept UNITA in a coalition government (see fig. 16). With increasing international support and military aid, particularly from South Africa and, after 1985, the United States, UNITA extended its campaign of destruction throughout the entire country. It enlarged its military forces and scope of operations and withstood several major FAPLA offenses.

    Starting with a small army of a few thousand defeated and poorly armed followers at the end of 1976, Savimbi built a credible political organization and fighting force. Unlike what became of the MPLA under its faction-ridden leadership, UNITA remained the creation and vehicle of its founder. Internal opposition occasionally surfaced, but the lack of independent reporting made it difficult to assess its significance. South Africa kept FAPLA and Cuban forces at bay and intervened whenever FAPLA offenses threatened, leaving UNITA comparatively free to consolidate its control throughout the south and to extend its range of operations northward. In February 1988, Savimbi announced the formation of a UNITA government in "Free Angola," the area he controlled. Although his intent was to regularize administration, rather than to secede or seek international recognition, this event marked a new stage in UNITA's organizational development and consolidation, and many Africans states maintained at least informal ties to the movement.

    Savimbi's strategy and tactics were designed to raise the costs of foreign "occupation" through maximum disruption and dislocation, while minimizing his own casualties. UNITA's forces infiltrated new areas and contested as much territory as possible, wresting it away from FAPLA control whenever feasible. They rarely seized and held towns, except near their bases in the south. Rather, they sabotaged strategic targets of economic or military value and ambushed FAPLA units when the latter attempted to return to or retake their positions. FAPLA access was also obstructed by extensive mine laying along lines of communication, approaches to settlements, and infrastructure sites. To undermine support for the MPLA-PT, UNITA indiscriminately attacked or took hostage hundreds of expatriate technicians and advisers, and Savimbi repeatedly threatened multinational companies with retaliation for their support of the government. Apparently abandoning hope of military victory, Savimbi sought instead to strengthen UNITA's bargaining position in demanding direct negotiations with Luanda for the establishment of a government of national unity.

    UNITA's military progress was remarkable. By 1982 it had declared all but six of the eighteen Angolan provinces to be war zones. In late 1983, with direct air support from South Africa, UNITA took the town of Cangamba, the last FAPLA stronghold in southeastern Angola. This operation marked a shift from guerrilla tactics to conventional warfare, at least in the countryside. In 1984 UNITA announced the beginning of an urban guerrilla campaign and claimed responsibility for acts of sabotage in Luanda itself and even in Cabinda. The movement gained control of the regions bordering Zambia and Zaire, enabling it to develop secure supply lines plus infiltration and escape routes. From 1984 to 1987, UNITA not only continued to advance north and northwest but also repulsed major FAPLA offenses backed by heavy Cuban and Soviet logistic and combat support, in the latter instances relying on SADF air and ground support. In spite of the 1988 regional accords, according to which FAPLA and UNITA were to lose much of their external support, no military solution to the war was expected.

    Data as of February 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Angola on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Angola The Enduring Rival: UNITA information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Angola The Enduring Rival: UNITA should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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