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The People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA or Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola) was originally the armed wing of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) but later (1975 - 1991) became Angola's official armed forces when the MPLA took control of the government.

History[edit | edit source]

In the early 1960s the MPLA named its guerrilla forces the "People's Army for the Liberation of Angola" (Exército Popular de Libertação de Angola - EPLA). Many of its first cadres had received training in Morocco and Algeria. In January 1963, in one of its early operations, the EPLA attacked a Portuguese military post in Cabinda, killing a number of troops. During the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the EPLA operated very successfully from bases in Zambia against the Portuguese in eastern Angola. After 1972, however, the EPLA's effectiveness declined following several Portuguese victories, disputes with National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) forces, and the movement of about 800 guerrillas from Zambia to the Republic of Congo. On August 1, 1974 a few months after a military coup d'état had overthrown the Lisbon regime and proclaimed its intention of granting independence to Angola, the MPLA announced the formation of FAPLA, which replaced the EPLA. By 1976 FAPLA had been transformed from lightly armed guerrilla units into a national army capable of sustained field operations. This transformation was gradual until the Soviet-Cuban intervention and ensuing National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) insurgency, when the sudden and large-scale inflow of heavy weapons and accompanying technicians and advisers quickened the pace of institutional change. Unlike African states that acceded to independence by an orderly and peaceful process of institutional transfer, Angola inherited a disintegrating colonial state whose army was in retreat. Although Mozambique's situation was similar in some respects, the confluence of civil war, foreign intervention, and large-scale insurgency made Angola's experience unique. After independence, FAPLA had to reorganize for conventional war and counterinsurgency simultaneously and immediately to continue the new war with South Africa and UNITA. Ironically, a guerrilla army that conducted a successful insurgency for more than a decade came to endure the same kind of exhausting struggle for a similar period.

Combat performance[edit | edit source]

FAPLA's military performance is difficult to gauge, particularly in view of the propagandistic reports issued by the various forces that contended in the region. On the one hand, UNITA had extended its range of operations from the remote south-eastern extremities throughout the entire country within a few years of Portugal's withdrawal. The South African Defence Force (SADF) had occupied parts of southern Angola for extended periods, virtually without contest, for the purposes of resupplying UNITA, intervening on its behalf, conducting reconnaissance flights and patrols, and attacking South-West Africa People's Organisation encampments. UNITA reported low morale among captured FAPLA conscripts, lack of discipline among troops, heavy losses of personnel and equipment in battle, countless ambushes and attacks on FAPLA forces, successful sabotage operations, and desertions by battalion-size FAPLA units. In the late 1980s, Angola's minister of defense publicly called for greater discipline in FAPLA, citing reports of theft, assaults, and drunken military drivers. As late as 1988, in the wake of reports of increased FAPA/DAA effectiveness, the South African Air Force (SAAF) commander dismissed the Angolans as "extremely unprofessional," noting that "50 percent of the threat against us is Cuban." On the other hand, it could be argued that FAPLA had substantially improved its capabilities and performance. In the first place, FAPLA had begun to develop and acquire the organization, doctrine, and equipment of a conventional army only during the civil war of 1975-76. It was then forced to fight a counterinsurgency war in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the country over extended lines of communications, without the requisite air or ground transport or logistical infrastructure. UNITA also enjoyed the advantages of operating in thinly populated areas along porous borders with Zambia and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), with extensive SADF combat and logistic support, making it impossible for FAPLA to isolate or outflank UNITA. Moreover, military experts believe that counterinsurgency troops must outnumber guerrillas by ten to one in order to win such wars, a ratio FAPLA could never approximate. The air force and navy were even further behind and had required years to acquire the assets and the expertise needed for effective operations. Although the navy was of marginal use in the war, air power was critical. It was only after sufficient aircraft and air defense systems had been deployed in the mid-1980s that Luanda was able to launch and sustain large offensives in the south. Although they suffered heavy losses and perhaps relied too heavily on Soviet military doctrine, FAPLA and FAPA/DAA in the late 1980s showed increased strength, put greater pressure on UNITA, and raised the costs of South Africa's support for UNITA. Luanda's resolve and the improved capabilities and performance of its armed forces were among the essential conditions under which South Africa agreed to negotiate its withdrawal from Angola. Following the peace agreement with UNITA prior to the 1992 elections, the two armies of FAPLA and UNITA commenced integration. Although the integration was never completed as UNITA returned to war following their loss of the elections, the army was renamed FAA (Forças Armadas Angolanas), losing the close nominal association with the MPLA.

References[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

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