THE NATIONAL UNION FOR THE TOTAL INDEPENDENCE OF ANGOLA
STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE POLITICAL COMMISSION
1999 - Year of Generalised Popular Resistance
Angola: The Present Military Situation and the Prospects
April 25, 1999
The Military and Political Situation
Since President José Eduardo dos Santos announced the beginning of the "annihilation of UNITA and its President", his forces - FAA - have tried unsuccessfully to take over Andulo and Bailundo in four consecutive offensives.
In all these attempts, FAA suffered enormous losses in men and equipment. In the last attempt, which ended about March 10, the losses were even higher.
Meanwhile, UNITA has reactivated its guerrilla forces throughout the country blocking transport routes and hindering the government's ability to resupply or rescue its units by land.
The government was forced to withdraw its forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo Brazzaville (RC) to deal with the situation at home. This has weakened their clients whose situation has since deteriorated.
The morale of government forces is extremely low due to constant defeats and lack of an appropriate supporting logistics. Some troops were seen in combat with neither shoes nor uniforms.
The government air force can not play a tactical support role due to enhanced UNITA anti-air defence systems.
Inability of the government to mount a serious threat to UNITA sensitive areas. All government declared goals were not reached and it went slowly into a defensive mode.
Government financial difficulties have reduced its purchasing power and liquidity. It has also aggravated the social and economic problems at home. All this is compounded by a hostile political environment resulting from the purges conduced at the IV MPLA Congress.
The withdrawal of Anglo-American from a project in southern Angola due to instability, was a blow to the government reflecting on its financial stability.
UNITA controls the whole border with Zambia and DRC, as acknowledged by the Uige Vice-Governor on March 28 and about 3/4 of the border with Namibia.
UNITA has regained about 70% of the territory confining government forces to provincial capitals and a few other towns.
UNITA has been successful in combining conventional and guerrilla warfare, establishing a presence throughout the country. As of March, UNITA guerrillas started operating in Luanda and Bengo provinces.
Shift of the war focus from the central highlands to the north. The government will have to decide if it continues trying to retake far-away Andulo or defends Luanda.
UNITA has slowly overcome its internal difficulties by re-inventing itself. There have been suggestions that the level of expansion being experienced by UNITA may become a problem at some point. In other words, UNITA's success now will become its main problem later. Those advocating such view assume as a given, that UNITA will fail to manage its growth. What if they are proven wrong?
UNITA has higher mobility, better command and control, upgraded equipment and skills and motivation. This has produced good defensive and offensive capabilities as recognised by the FAA Chief of Staff, General Joao de Matos, on March 23rd.
UNITA troops display a sense of restored pride and dignity lost during the disarmament and demobilisation processes. Those who were demobilised and left to themselves with no work neither future to look forward to, are suddenly finding something to do that proves their worth.
It is now widely accepted that the military imbalance is unfavourable to the government. Competent institutions are giving UNITA a good chance of taking over the country. However, fear of UNITA remains coupled with a general anxiety about UNITA's economic orientation. This reflects how little the international community understands UNITA. In a related development, UNITA Secretary General, Paulo Lukamba "Gato", said on March 26th, "foreign interests in Angola will be protected". Angola does not possess the required
know-how to maximise its potential neither a market big enough to absorve its potential output. Any government truly committed to development will have to take into account
foreign investments, partnerships and transfer of technology through mutually beneficial contracts.
UNITA statements indicate a continuing commitment to a negotiated outcome of this conflict. The present military activities are seen as necessary to destroy the government military capacity and force it to abandon its strategy of annihilation of UNITA and its leadership. UNITA believes that this strategy was initiated with the ousting of Mobutu followed by Lissouba as a way to isolate UNITA. Many western governments went along with that strategy as a shortcut to peace in Angola. The MPLA government's posture vis-a-vis negotiations may, at some point, determine a policy shift by UNITA leadership towards seeking a military solution.
It will not be easy for the government to recover. Their operational weakness has caused confusion in the chain of command, affecting even more the coordination and logistics of war. Moreover, the best government units have already been deployed including units from the presidential guard - the first time in the history of the civil war. Further conscription will not be an answer given the troops' state of morale. Desertions will continue and the government's inability to pay on time and supply properly its troops will only make things worse.
It was a miscalculation on President dos Santos' part to have decided waging war inside with his troops spread out in two neighbouring countries at the same time that he conducts a political purge within his party. In retrospect, the leaders of the so called "UNITA Renovada" contributed to this big mistake by leading Mr. dos Santos into believing that whatever was left in Bailundo and Andulo was ready to fall.
Waiting for the dry season to see an improved government performance is simply a myth. UNITA is also using the same heavy equipment, in many cases captured from the government. It they can manage it in the rainy season, they will surely do better in the dry one.
The SADC countries will not get militarily involved in Angola as it has been reported. Zimbabwe has enough problems of its own and Namibia would not make a difference anyway. As long as South Africa is out of it, UNITA sees no threat from the region.
The government will slowly refocus its efforts to the defence of Luanda, Soyo and Cabinda, as UNITA steps up pressure in the north.
For pride and political reasons, President dos Santos will continue to reject any initiative towards dialogue with Dr. Savimbi, as he did with the recent OAU effort. He went too far in his public pronouncements. A U-turn now would mean political death. Yet, the military situation is not offering him a golden way out either. He is standing on quicksand.
UNITA was originally prepared to lose Andulo and Bailundo and harass occupying government forces from surrounding positions. Now its strategy has firmly shifted towards defending them. They have become bait. Large quantities of new government equipment were captured with each failed offensive. Also captured were officers who were instrumental in describing government plans, order of battle and the troops state of mind.
UNITA saw its tactical superiority climb quickly and took full advantage of it. Much of the captured equipment is in good condition and enough to use for months. Since both sides use the same equipment, whatever is left behind will be used immediately. The difference rests with the motivation and skills of the men who manage it. Furthermore, as long as there is oil in Angola, greedy FAA officers and the right amount of dollars in UNITA hands, fuel will not pose a strategic problem.
With the UN sanctions policy, came the disengagement, which, in fact, gave UNITA an opportunity to navigate in an environment with no pressure and where it is accountable to nobody other than itself. The international community lost its leverage over UNITA and its leadership is exactly where he would like to be free from international messengers.
Finally, UNITA still retains the ability to revert to a guerrilla warfare in the, now unlikely, event of things becoming difficult conventionally.
UNITA has been putting out ideas that could be a good basis to resume talks. In essence, any solution to the present conflict can not be contemplate solely within the framework of Lusaka. The Lusaka Protocol, as we know it, is dead. It was seriously wounded back in June, by the government of José Eduardo dos Santos, when it violated the agreement of the meeting that took place in Andulo, on 19 June, 1998, with the participation of both parties and MONUA, in which, UNITA expressed its concerns about the behaviour of government police and FAA in the areas where UNITA had allowed the extension of state authority. UNITA had proof that the government was pursuing to deliberate policy of trying to eliminate it through the killing and detentions, without trial, of its militants and sympathisers, as well as the destruction of its property. It finally died when President dos Santos announced the end of dialogue with Dr. Savimbi, created "UNITA Renovada", and launched the war to "annihilate UNITA and its President" on December 5th, 1998. It is believed that the UN and the Troika were then convinced that, after its forays into neighbouring countries, the Luanda government would produce a shortcut to peace.
Now MONUA is leaving and the country is back at war. There are two extreme solutions:
- Sit and watch the sides fight each other indefinitely;
- Wait for one of the sides to win a military victory.
Both are costly in human terms and the resulting destruction of what is left of Angola.
The third way would be to admit that reconciliation as tried so far, does not work. There is a need to find a "live and let live" solution.
The UN looks so obsessed with sanctions that it seems to have lost sight of the ultimate goal of this process. If three years of sanctions have brought Angola where it is, one should question the wisdom of simply calling for new ones. There may be alternative approaches out there but one has to be willing and open to seeking them. The Angolan Catholic and other Churches could be invited to participate in such a debate to make it a national effort in which all would save face.
Neither party to the war will trust the other enough to gamble with its future. On the other hand, one should not have to continue killing one another to assert one's diversity.
The international community can sit and watch or engage and seek a realistic solution, namely urging the government of José Eduardo dos Santos to return to dialogue.
April 25th, 1999.
The Standing Committee.