By Terry Aspinall
Mercenary Wars Blog
During January 1976 the British recruited mercenaries serving in the north of Angola had been holding up the Cuban army’s advance to capture and gain control of the area. However, by early February a large number of Cuban tanks pushed its way past them owing to the fact that they did not have large stocks of anti tank weaponry to hold them back. Most of the British mercenaries were either captured or made their way back over the border into Zaire and then on to the UK. Sadly there are still a few who are listed as missing in action.
With the fighting in the North of Angola over, it allowed the Cuban military contingent to be move to the south of the country, and turn its attention towards Jonas Savimbi (UNITA) who had mercenaries fighting for them, and South African. Although it’s not quite clear as to whether it was an Angolan government decision, or if the Cuban and Russian governments insisted on it.
It’s also worth noting that South Africa like Rhodesia did not have mercenaries fighting for them. However, both countries willing signed up soldiers from other countries to join their regular military forces, being paid and treated just like all other military personnel of that country.
By February 1976 there were 11000 Cubans in the country at a time when all other foreign troops had left. They were clearly making it plain that they were there to stay.
The Cuban build up of its army on Angolan soil seems to have been Fidel Castro’s way of thrusting himself onto the world stage trying to show that he was a force to be reckoned with, and wrongly believing he was a world leader. It was his way of trying to show the world that Cuba was not to be messed with. Although it’s quite clear that financially Cuba did not have the funds to carry out this large scale military buildup in a foreign country a few thousand miles away from home.
Russia on the other hand had plenty of spare cash, not spending it on its own country, and used the situation to destabilise another country by stealth. To the world it looked like Cuba was running the show, but it was acting under the orders of the Russian government. To prove the point there were Russian so called advisors sent to Cuba. Whether they were advisors or mercenaries I’ll leave that up to the reader.
This whole situation allowed Fidel Castro to send many many thousands of poorly trained young men into a war zone that they were not trained for. Although having said that as with most young people they adapted well, but the price in lives lost was very high. And to make matters worse Castro had not the guts to tell his fellow Cubans the truth of what was happening to their sons. Even to this day many do not know what happened to their children and are scared to even ask, as Castro’s legacy still continues in the form of his brother.
Castro seems to have had no hesitation in sending people to their death. Even in Cuba he allowed many young people to be killed while trying to hunt down people who he believed were a threat to his regime and wanted them out of the equation. Even this did not work. The death toll amongst his own troops rose so high, that in the end he had to call in his Russian friends to help finish the job for him. Many of these young Cubans whereabouts are still unknown to this day.
The conflict that took place in Southern Angola during 1986/89 was not a hit and run affair, but almost a full scale theater of war that the South Africans were well equipped to handle. Something the Cubans were definitely not trained or prepared for, without Russian help.