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I was looking through Wikipedia (a mixed quality source) about the military history of Yugoslavia, when I noticed this odd listing of Yugoslavia as one of the combatants in the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002). If this was true, then it deviates from Yugoslavia's traditional foreign policy of neutrality and non-intervention during the Cold War.

The Wikipedia article that mentions this does not go into any detail about this topic other than the list. Here is the link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_Yugoslavia

I would imagine that Yugoslavia, whatever it was doing there, must have left the conflict zone well before the break up process of that country in the mid 1990's.

Besides this conclusion, I must wonder what the mission of the Yugoslavian military was in Angola? Was it to just provide non-combat military assistance? Did it provide stand off combat military related support, such as artillery cover, air support, and military training? Or did Yugoslav military forces get involved in frontline, tactical level engagements with hostile military forces in that country?

If anyone could please fill me in on this historical oddity, it would be appreciated.

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I'm not sure the Yugoslavian military were ever actually "combatants" in the Angolan Civil War in the strict sense of the term. I was living in Southern Africa when the war broke out and so I've read quite a bit about what was going on in Angola.

The military support for the MPLA came from Cuba, together with a number of Russian specialists (although it is possible that Yugoslavia did sent some specialist military advisers to assist the MPLA and Cubans).

I do know that Yugoslavia was one of the countries that provided financial and materiel assistance to the MPLA before the civil war actually broke out in 1975. They may even have provided military training before 1975 (although I thought that training was provided by the USSR). On page 519 of Into the Storm: American Covert Involvement in the Angolan Civil War, Shannon Butler observes:

what little information is available indicates that the bulk of the weapons and military equipment came by ships, most of which were neither Soviet nor even Soviet-bloc. In fact, during these critical early months of 1975, Yugoslavia seems to have been the MPLA’s main supplier, and it is highly doubtful that the independent and non-aligned Yugoslav’s were doing Moscow’s bidding.

Further,

The MPLA admitted that “some” Soviet weapons and equipment arrived during this time frame, but “they were of lesser importance” to that delivered by Yugoslavia. MPLA leader, Paulo Jorge iterated the importance of Yugoslavia’s support for the MPLA during this time frame.

But there is no mention of Yugoslavian "boots on the ground".

Full text of Into the Storm: American Covert Involvement in the Angolan Civil War, 1974-1975 by Shannon Rae Butler on the Internet Archive.

  • I forget to ask -why- would Yugoslavia want to break its long standing pattern of neutrality and non-intervention by getting involved in this conflict? Did they think they would get some long term economic gain at the end? Was it merely to provide its military with some real operational experience? – Brian Ghilliotti Jun 10 '17 at 5:23
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    Trying to understand Tito's motivation is always difficult - even with the benefit of hindsight! Perhaps it was just because there was an opportunity to support one of the African independence movements and prove his anti-colonial credentials? Possibly it was just to "show willing" to the USSR in a theatre that was not yet a Cold-War flash-point? It could even have been an effort by Tito to secure access to Angolan oil in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis? – sempaiscuba Jun 10 '17 at 11:08
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    This declassified CIA memo may be relevant, but it's tough to read: cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/LOC-HAK-536-10-8-7.pdf – Brian Z Jun 10 '17 at 14:56
  • @BrianZ That looks interesting. Thank you. – sempaiscuba Jun 10 '17 at 15:35
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    I think we have a winner ... It could even have been an effort by Tito to secure access to Angolan oil in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis? I can't confirm but that's the way I'd bet. – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 '17 at 19:08
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There three major factions in Angola, the (marxist) MPLA, the FNLA, and the UNITA. Of the the three, the MPLA won. in large part because "they had the least tribalist approach." That is, they successfully subsumed their tribal, and other local differences under the banner of "we're all Communists here."

This was a winning formula for another group of Marxists, the partisans of Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs taught that lesson to their Angolan counterparts.That's because Tito and Yugoslavia had to deal with a similar issue of a multi-way power split in their homeland during World War II (Tito,Chetniks, Ustase).

And both Yugoslavian and Angolan Communists benefited from Soviet tutors, but Tito was a Soviet protege before he became the leader of the Yugoslav movement.

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