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União Nacional pela Independência Total de Angola UNITA
National Union for the Total Independence of Angola
Forcas Armadas para a Liberacao de Angola (FALA)
Armed Forces or the Liberation of Angola
Center for Democracy in Angola (CEDA)

2003 Update: The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in February 2002 enabled the Angolan government and UNITA to sign the Luena Memorandum of Understanding on April 4, 2002. This agreement established an immediate cease-fire and called for UNITA's return to the peace process laid out in the 1994 Lusaka Protocol. In accordance therewith, UNITA quartered all its military personnel in established reception areas and handed its remaining arms over to the Angolan government. In September 2002, the Angolan government and UNITA reestablished the Lusaka Protocol's Joint Commission to resolve outstanding political issues. On November 21, 2002, the Angolan government and UNITA declared the provisions of the Lusaka Protocol fully implemented and called for the lifting of sanctions on UNITA imposed by the United Nations Security Council. On May 6, 2003, the U.S. Government lifted the sanctions that had been imposed to bring pressure upon UNITA.

Prior Background

Since Angola has been wracked by civil strife for over 30 years, most Angolans have never lived in a peaceful, stable environment. The prolonged civil strife in Angola devastated the country in every conceivable way. The conflict began in the late colonial period and continued in the post-independence era, first as an internal struggle which then became internationalized and entangled in cold war ideologies and partisanship. In the three decades of conflict, over 500,000 people died, 3.5 million were internally displaced, hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring Zaire and Zambia and 70,000 Angolans suffer disabilities caused by landmines. Civil society ceased to exist, human rights abuses became the norm, rural and village infrastructure was destroyed or neglected, millions of land mines were laid in all parts of the country and the economy largely collapsed. The majority of Angolans were politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized. Virtually the entire non-coastal population of Angola is war-affected. Despite a wealth of natural resources, the gross domestic product declined from an average of $820 between 1996-88 to $410 in 1995.

The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel movement controlled various portions of Angolan territory over differing lengths of time. During the Cold War the U.S.-backed anti-Communist forces of UNITA were engaged in opposition to the Angolan government, which received support from Cuban troops.

UNITA first came to international attention when, in December 1966, a group of its guerrillas attacked the town of Teixeira de Sousa (renamed Luau), succeeding in interrupting the Benguela Railway and stopping Zambian and Zairian copper shipments for a week. The new organization was formed by Jonas Savimbi, the former foreign minister and main representative of the Ovimbundu within the Revolutionary Government of Angola in Exile (Govêrno Revolucionário de Angola no Exílo--GRAE), whose disagreements over policy issues led to Savimbi's resignation in July 1964. Savimbi had traveled to China in 1965, where he and several of his followers received four months of military training and became disciples of Maoism. Perhaps the strongest impact of Maoism on UNITA has been Savimbi's insistence on self-sufficiency and maintenance of the organization's leadership within Angolan borders. Upon his return to Angola in 1966, Savimbi turned down an invitation from the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola [MPLA] to join its organization as a rank-and-file member and moved UNITA into the bush, where the organization began its guerrilla war with a small amount of Chinese military aid transported via Tanzania and Zambia.

Although UNITA lacked educated cadres and arms, it attracted the largest following of the three movements from the Ovimbundu, who comprised 31 percent of the population. And, unlike the MPLA and FNLA, UNITA enjoyed the benefits of a unified and unchallenged leadership directed by Savimbi. Moreover, in contrast to the mestiço-dominated, urban-based MPLA, Savimbi presented UNITA as the representative of black peasants. UNITA's constitution proclaimed that the movement would strive for a government proportionally representative of all ethnic groups, clans, and classes. His Maoist-oriented philosophy led Savimbi to concentrate on raising the political consciousness of the peasants, most of whom were illiterate and widely dispersed. Savimbi preached selfreliance and founded cooperatives for food production and village self-defense units. He set up a pyramidal structure of elected councils grouping up to sixteen villages that--at least in theory-- articulated demands through a political commissar to a central committee, whose thirty-five members were to be chosen every four years at a congress.

In the early 1970s, UNITA began infiltrating the major population centers, slowly expanding its area of influence westward beyond Bié. There, however, it collided with the eastward thrust of the MPLA, which was sending Soviet-trained political cadres to work among the Ovimbundu and specifically with the Chokwe, Lwena, Luchazi, and Lunda, exploiting potential ethnic antagonisms (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , ch. 2).

On the eve of independence, UNITA controlled many of the rich, food-producing central and southern provinces and was therefore able to regulate the flow of food to the rest of the country. At the time, it claimed the allegiance of about 40 percent of the population.

UNITA formally declared war on the MPLA on August 1, 1975. A year earlier, the MPLA had created its military wing, the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola -- FAPLA), which became the core of the postindependence army). The FNLA and UNITA, recognizing that their separate military forces were not strong enough to fight the MPLA, formed an alliance and withdrew their ministers from the provisional government in Luanda, heralding full-scale civil war. The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), meanwhile, initiated a covert program to have American and European mercenaries fight with the FNLA.

UNITA was able to survive after the war for independence, first, because of the continued loyalty of some of its traditional Ovimbundu supporters, but, more important, because of military and logistical support from South Africa.

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. 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 the government's 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.

FALA, like FAPLA, would not have been able to expand its size, capabilities, and range of operations without extensive external assistance. By supplying UNITA with US$80 million worth of assistance annually during the 1980s, Pretoria remained the group's principal source of arms, training, logistical, and intelligence support. The SAAF made regular air drops of weapons, ammunition, medicine, food, and equipment, sometimes at night to avoid interception, and was reported occasionally to have ferried FALA troops. South African instructors provided training in both Namibia and UNITA-controlled areas of southern Angola. The largest training center in Namibia was at Rundu, where intensive three-month training courses were conducted. In late 1988, amidst regional peace negotiations, there were reports that UNITA was planning to relocate its main external logistical supply lines from South Africa to Zaire and was moving its headquarters and forces into Namibia's Caprivi Strip before the anticipated arrival of a UN peacekeeping force.

Pretoria established its relationship with UNITA for several reasons. Vehemently anticommunist, South Africa felt threatened by the MPLA's turn toward the Soviet Union and its allies. The South Africans also wished to retaliate for Luanda's support of SWAPO. Furthermore, by helping UNITA shut down the Benguela Railway, which linked the mining areas of Zaire and Zambia to Atlantic ports, Pretoria made these two countries more dependent on South Africa's transportation system and thus more responsive to South African wishes. In support of UNITA leader Savimbi, the South African Defense Force (SADF) set up bases in Cuando Cubango Province in southeastern Angola. Savimbi established his headquarters in Jamba and enjoyed air cover provided by the South African air force from bases in Namibia. The SADF also trained UNITA guerrillas in Namibia and provided UNITA with arms, fuel, and food. On occasion, South African ground forces provided direct support during UNITA battles with FAPLA.

In addition to aid from South Africa, UNITA received support in varying degrees from numerous black African and North African states. Zaire provided sanctuary and allowed its territory to be used by others to train and resupply UNITA forces, and Zambia and Malawi were suspected of granting clandestine overflight and landing privileges. During the 1970s, UNITA troops were trained in Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, and other African countries. Subsequently, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Somalia, and Tunisia also furnished financial and military aid. Morocco, which had supplied arms to the MPLA during the liberation struggle, switched sides and became a major source of military training for FALA, especially for officers, paratroops, and artillery personnel. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Arab states furnished financial support valued at US$60 million to US$70 million annually. Israel was also reported to have provided military aid and training to UNITA soldiers at Kamina in Zaire. Although Savimbi denied that UNITA had ever employed foreign mercenaries or advisers, there had been reports of South African, French, Israeli, and Portuguese combatants among his forces.

Beginning in 1986, the United States had supplied UNITA with US$15 million to US$20 million annually in "covert" military aid funded out of the budget of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The first acknowledged shipments of United States aid consisted of nonlethal items such as trucks, medical equipment, and uniforms, but antitank and air defense weapons soon followed. The bulk of this matériel was reportedly airlifted through Kamina airbase in Zaire's Shaba Province, where a UNITA liaison detachment was stationed and CIA operatives were believed by Luanda to have trained 3,000 UNITA guerrillas. The remainder was thought to have been delivered through South Africa, Gabon, and Central African Republic.

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.

The second United Nations Verification Mission for Angola (UNAVEM II) was established to verify the redeployment northward and the phased and total withdrawal of Cuban troops from the territory of the Peoples's Republic of Angola in accordance with the timetable agreed between the Parties. The Mission was established for a period of 31 months, with effect from January 1989. In May 1991, the mandate of this Mission was enlarged to include verification of the arrangements agreed to by the Angolan parties for the monitoring of the Angolan Police as set out in the Angola Peace Accords of May 1991.

In 1991 the Bicesse Peace Accord was brokered between the MPLA and UNITA which put forth a peace process that led to the holding of presidential elections in 1992. A new era of peace appeared to be on the horizon with the signing of the peace agreement between the two warring parties in far away Portugal on 31 May 1991. The two main contenders for the country's first multiparty elections, set for September 29 and 30, 1992, were UNITA and the ruling MPLA party and their respective leaders, Dr. Jonas Malheiro Savimbi and Jose Eduardo dos Santos. UNITA expected to sweep the polls. The elections were characterised by a large voter turnout, but ended up shrouded in controversy amid UNITA charges that the ruling MPLA party had resorted to electoral fraud. Although the UN declared the elections free and fair, UNITA did not accept the outcome and intense fighting broke out country-wide between UNITA and Government forces.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 864 (1993) obliges all Member States to maintain sanctions against UNITA. This UN Security Council resolution specified steps for UNITA to do for the sanctions to be lifted. Every subsequent resolution has signalled that as soon as those steps are fulfilled, the sanctions would be lifted. United Nations sanctions against UNITA, some of which have been in place since 1993, include prohibitions on the sale and supply of arms and other forms of military assistance and petroleum and petroleum products, the provision of funds or financial resources, the export of diamonds, and a ban on travel and representation abroad by UNITA officials. UNITA has managed to evade most of these sanctions and has therefore been able to remain aggressive on the battlefield. The UN sanctions committee has estimated that Savimbi has made between $3 and $4 billion in diamond sales between 1992 and 1999. Furthermore, there is some indication that UNITA has made more money by investing a lot of that very wisely in a bull market, and therefore he has made significant profits on those investments.

On September 26, 1993, the President of the United States issued Executive Order 12865, declaring a national emergency with respect to Angola, and invoking the authority, inter alia, of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) and the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 (22 U.S.C. 287c). Consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 864, dated September 15, 1993, the order prohibits the sale or supply by United States persons or from the United States, or using U.S. registered vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles, equipment and spare parts, and petroleum and petroleum products to the territory of Angola other than through designated points of entry. It also prohibits such sale or supply to UNITA. U.S. persons are prohibited from activities which promote or are calculated to promote such sales or supplies, or from attempted violations, or from evasion or avoidance or transactions that have the purpose of evasion or avoidance, of the stated prohibitions. The order authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of the order.

After prolonged negotiations, the parties to the conflict reached a peace agreement that was formalized with the signing of the Lusaka Protocol in November 1994. The Lusaka Protocol established procedures for a cease-fire, integration of military forces, and reconciliation guidelines. The Lusaka Protocol provided for the initial disarmament UNITA, the formation of a unified army and police force, the creation of a government of national unity and reconciliation, and the transformation of UNITA from an armed revolutionary movement into a political party.

A United Nations peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Verification Mission for Angola (UNAVEM III) was presetn between February 1995 and June 1997. Among the main features of UNAVEM III's mandate were the following: to provide Good Offices and mediation to the Angolan parties, to monitor and verify the extension of State administration throughout the country and the process of national reconciliation; to supervise, control and verify the disengagement of forces and to monitor the cease-fire; to assist in the establishment of quartering areas, to verify the withdrawal, quartering and demobilization of UNITA forces; to supervise the collection and storage of UNITA armaments; to coordinate, facilitate and support humanitarian activities directly linked to the peace process, as well as participating in mine-clearing activities; to declare formally that all essential requirements for the holding of the second round of the presidential election have been fulfilled, and to support, verify and monitor the electoral process.

On 11 April 1997 the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation (GURN) was formed in Angola. With this milestone, agreed to by the Government of Angola and UNITA when they signed the Lusaka Protocol in 1994, UNITA committed to transform itself from an armed opposition movement into a political party, working within a political system to build a stable, democratic Angola. In welcoming UNITA into the government, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos underscored his commitment to political pluralism and the ruling party's willingness to work constructively with its former adversaries, including UNITA President Dr. Jonas Savimbi. Angola has recognized UNITA as a legitimate political party able to operate within Angola.

The Joint Commission, which oversees the implementation of the Lusaka Protocols, includes representatives from the United Nations, the Angolan Government, UNITA, the Russian Federation, the United States and Portugal. The Joint Commission has supported a planby the UN peace mediator to resolve the crisis, which plan requires UNITA to give up control of the so-called sensitive areas of Andulo, Bailundo, Mungo and N'harea. It also requires the Angolan national police to end human rights abuses and the Government to stop broadcasting hostile propaganda. On 30 June 1997, by adopting resolution 1118 (1997), the UN Security Council established United Nations Observer Mission in Angola [MONUA], to be operational as of 1 July 1997. Despite all efforts, however, the situation in the country continued to be tense. On 12 June 1998, the Security Council took action in resolution 1173(1998) condemning UNITA and holding its leadership responsible for its failure to implement fully its obligations contained in the Lusaka Protocol and relevant Security Council resolutions.

By mid-1998 military actions by UNITA had resulted in a dramatic humanitarian and human rights situation, with 1,3 million people, or ten per cent of the population displaced. The military and security situation in the country further deteriorated through 1998, and the risks of a resumption of full-scale hostilities increased significantly. UNITA forces continued to threaten Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte, Moxico, Uige and Cuanza Norte Provinces. Evidently, UNITA maintained a significant military capability, despite its past declarations on the demilitarization of its forces. On many occasions, UNITA "residual" troops were identified as being responsible for attacks on villages and towns, as well as ambushes on major roads. There were also incidents of selective killing and kidnapping in order to intimidate the population and dissuade it from cooperating with government authorities.

In December 1998 the Lusaka protocol collapsed and UNITA resumed armed struggle. The primary cause of the current crisis in Angola was the failure by the leadership of UNITA to comply with its obligations under the Lusaka Protocol.

After the downing on 2 January 1999 of a second United Nations-chartered aircraft over territory controlled by UNITA, bringing to six the number of aircraft lost in this area in recent months, the Council - acting under Chapter VII of the Charter - demanded in resolution 1221(1999) of 12 January 1999, that all such attacks cease immediately; reaffirming its resolve to establish the truth about the circumstances of and to determine the responsibility for the downing of the two UN aircraft and the loss under suspicious circumstances of other commercial aircraft over UNITA controlled territory.

The government of Angola and UNITA rebels have shown no interest in halting military operations or returning to the negotiating table. Observing that the peace process in Angola had collapsed and the country found itself in a state of war, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated on 17 January 1999 that MONUA had no other option but to continue to reduce its presence and proceed with the orderly repatriation of UN personnel and property. By August at least two million people, more than one-sixth of the population, had been forced from their homes by the fighting and at least 200 were dying from starvation each day. A large-scale government offensive was launched on 14 September 1999 against UNITA positions in the provinces of Huambo, Bie, Malanje and Uige. In October 1999 UNITA forces, escaping the Angolan army's offensive against their strongholds of Bailundo and Andulo, moved into Moxico province. By November 1999 the civil war that restarted in June 1998 had spread to almost every major town in Angola.

By December 1999 the startling military offensive by the Angolan government reclaimed virtually all the territory it had lost to the UNITA rebels during the previous six months. On 24 December 1999 the Angolan army captured UNITA's former headquarters at Jamba, in south-east of Angola. Jamba -- which served as UNITA's headquarters from 1976 until 1991 -- was created by South Africa and the American CIA and while serving as UNITA's headquarters was carefully camouflaged to protect against air attacks. The other historic UNITA headquarters at Lumbala N'guimbo in Moxico province, was captured by Angolan forces in November 1999.

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Updated May 7, 2003