Angola

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Republic of Angola

The nation today known as the Republic of Angola (República de Angola) was originally inhabited by Khoisan-speaking hunter gatherers who were later largely displaced by Bantu-speaking tribes. Known today as "bushmen," the descendants of these indigenous people inhabit only a small percentage of the land comprising the present nation. The BaKongo dominated the region with their superior knowledge of metallurgy, ceramics and agriculture, establishing trade with civilizations along the coast of western Africa, until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. Several independent states had been established by then, including Kongo, Ndongo, and Luanda, with which the Portuguese gladly established diplomatic and trade relationships. By the end of the 15th century, however, the Portuguese began establishing permanent forts, settlements and trading posts, from which they exported slaves and raw materials in increasingly higher numbers. Many of these slaves ended up in what is now Brazil to work the thriving Portuguese plantations there.

Portuguese control over the coastal region gradually increased thanks to its military superiority, with Angola becoming a colony by the late 16th century. The interior remained largely ungoverned, however, until the Berlin Conference of 1885, which established the colony's borders and permitted development of mining, agriculture and railways. It would take another century before full administrative control was achieved. In 1951, the region was declared the Overseas Province of Angola, yet by this time the wave of African nationalism was already taking root in certain parts of the continent and was begining to spread to Angola.

In 1961, prompted by Portuguese refusal to negotiate terms for Angolan independence, a series of attacks against white and black citizens in the north would shortly bring the nation into full civil war. Three distinct movements emerged, all aiming towards a free and independent Angola; these were the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) founded in 1956, the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) founded in 1961, and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) founded in 1966. Following the 1974 coup d'etat in Lisbon which ousted the Portuguese military dictatorship and replaced it with a much more liberal democracy, Portugal's interest in keeping Angola as a colonial possession rapidly waned. Thus on 11 November 1975 Angola was granted full independence, while the leaders of the three revolutionary movements were faced with the challenge of how to organize and run their country without the Portuguese infrastructure.

A transitional government was established in January 1975, but it was very short-lived, and soon the nation again found itself embroiled in another civil war. As the FNLA and UNITA forged a shaky alliance against the MPLA, the Soviet Union and Cuba channeled increasing military assistance to the Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola or FAPLA (the armed wing of the MPLA), aid that would continue well into the 1990s. The United States initially countered by supporting Daniel Chipenda's FNLA, with South Africa offering its support to both the FNLA and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA. This overt military support, however, was short-lived, with US aid ending in December of that year and the South African Defence Force leaving the country in February 1976. Yet as many as 11,000 Cuban "advisors" remained in Angola, along with a number of Soviet military personnel and a large assortment of war materiel. The MPLA became the de facto government of the nation, with UNITA and the FNLA continuing an insurgency campaign against the FAPLA. Although they would continue to receive covert support from several nations, including the United States, South Africa, and Zaire, the FNLA eventually capitulated, leaving UNITA to continue waging its war against FAPLA. Many FNLA personnel would later be transformed into 32 Battalion of the SADF, a Portuguese-speaking special operations unit with a fierce reputation and more cross-border combat experience than any other unit of the SADF. As for UNITA, when its leader, Jonas Savimbi, was killed during combat operations in February 2002, the group negotiated a cease fire shortly thereafter and by August of that year had given up the armed struggle, declaring its intent to focus on political means of change. Approximately 4.28 million people were displaced over the course of the 27 year Angolan Civil War, with as many as 500,000 people killed.

With a total strength of about 110,000 personnel, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) consist of three divisions: the Army (Exército), Navy (Marinha de Guerra), and Air Force (Força Aérea Nacional). The FAA maintain strong connections to their Portuguese roots, employing many original or slightly modified military accoutrements of the old regime, including some camouflage designs.

Angolan Camouflage Patterns

  • Originally introduced for service with units serving in Africa, the m63 "vertical lizard" camouflage pattern was worn by Portuguese units throughout the Angolan War for Independence. Remaining stocks ended up in the hands of FAPLA, UNITA and the FNLA, when they were liberated from supply houses after Portuguese military personnel abandoned the country.

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  • During the war for independence, MPLA (FAPLA) units were initially outfitted with uniforms from Eastern European sources, including the "rain" pattern produced in East Germany. These suits gradually fell into disuse as they were replaced by Cuban models.

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  • The FNLA was also supplied for a short period with the same copy of the Portuguese m63 lizard design as worn in Uganda, featuring vertical stripes of brown & dark green on a yellowish-khaki background.

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  • When Cuban forces began to arrive in the 1970s, they were oufitted with a unique "grey lizard" camouflage design. These uniforms, made originally in Cuba, were later produced specifically for FAPLA (and marked appropriately). Later models with darker colors were fabricated for export to Angola in South Korea. The pattern seems to have fallen into disuse with the FAA in the 1990s.

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  • Documentation of UNITA troops shows they did receive some surplus Rhodesian camouflage uniforms. However, the stocks must have been used up rapidly, as their appearance on combat personnel seems to have been extremely limited.

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  • An interesting Chinese-made pattern incorporating swirling black, brown & green amoebic shapes on pale green background was also produced for the FAA at some point during the 1990s. At least two fabric weights have been documented.

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  • UNITA officers occasionally appeared wearing the French lizard pattern, although most accounts indicate its use was generally for public image rather than combat & concealment value.

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  • When the South African-based company Executive Outcomes (EO) became involved in training and equipping the FAA in the 1990s, they introduced a number of camouflage uniforms that would be dispersed among several Angolan units. The Chinese-made copy of French lizard camouflage was particularly popular with the EO, and also saw service with units in Sierra Leone. These uniforms were cut in French F1 style.

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  • Another pattern that saw use with the FAA in the early 1990s was a variation of British DPM pattern, cut in a French M1964 (F1) style uniform. Documentary photos also show members of Executive Outcomes (EO) wearing the same uniforms.

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  • Various woodland pattern camouflage designs have been worn by the FAA since the 1990s, most of these produced by Asian companies for export. In the present era, although Angolan forces continue to wear a wide variety of camouflage patterns, the Angolan woodland pattern can be considered the "standard" combat design of the FAA.

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  • The unique DPM variant seen here was produced for the FAA, but was also worn by soldiers in Rwanda. All uniforms appear to be of Asian manufacture.

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  • Circa 2014, many Angolan airborne and special operations personnel began wearing an Asian-produced copy of Multicam camouflage in an updated uniform cut. It is uncertain whether the entire FAA will ultimately adopt this camouflage, but it has been observed on Commandos, Special Operations troops, Paratroopers, and the Naval Infantry.

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