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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.

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  • 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? Jun 10, 2017 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? Jun 10, 2017 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, 2017 at 14:56
  • @BrianZ That looks interesting. Thank you. Jun 10, 2017 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. Jun 12, 2017 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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As an article by Milorad Lazić shows:

Beginning with Algeria in the 1950s until its demise in the 1990s, Yugoslavia was an ardent supporter of liberation movements and revolutionary governments in Africa and Asia.

Lazić emphasizes four key dynamics that shaped this policy in general over these decades:

First, Yugoslav party and state leadership believed that non-aligned countries were both legally and morally obligated to help each other, although not through formal military alliances. [...] Second, military aid served as an effective means for augmenting Yugoslavia’s and Tito’s prestige in the world that would facilitate Belgrade’s other foreign policy objectives. [...] Third, military aid—along with elevated prestige—was directly contributing to Yugoslavia’s independence and security. [...] Finally, the economic considerations were present from the beginning of Yugoslavia’s military engagement in the Global South. Arms transfers allowed Yugoslavia to scrap obsolete weapons; at the same time, furnishing arms and military equipment also created markets for the Yugoslav military-industrial complex and advertised the achievements of Yugoslav industries abroad.

With relation to Angola specifically he elaborates:

Belgrade considered Angola one of the strategically most important countries in Africa. Furthermore, the Yugoslavs believed that the MPLA’s struggle in many ways resembled the struggle of the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II: just like Tito’s Partisans, the MPLA was simultaneously fighting foreign oppressors and domestic “reaction.” Even some foreign observers made this analogy between the Yugoslav liberation struggle and the Angolan decolonization war. British journalist Basil Davidson, who spent some time with the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II, wrote that the MPLA assumed the same tactics like the Yugoslav Partisans, while their chief competitor, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola – FNLA), “revealed a striking parallel with other ‘Holdenites’ [after the FNLA’s leader Roberto Holden], of the Second World War, notably the Serbian monarchists of occupied Yugoslavia” (Davidson 1972, 222). As one of the leaders of the MPLA stated, “Our liberation movement is in many respects similar to your peoples’ liberation movement, and that was certainly one of the reasons why we found friends in the Yugoslav people and its leaders” (NIN, September 21, 1975).

Since 1961, Yugoslavia was supporting the movement. Yet, before 1968, Yugoslav aid to the MPLA was chiefly symbolic. The quantity and quality of aid significantly increased from 1968. Until Angolan independence in November 1975, Yugoslavia donated money, weapons, and military materials to the MPLA that were worth U.S. $2 million. MPLA officials—including the movement’s leader and the first president of independent Angola, Agostinho Neto—often visited Yugoslavia to request money and weapons (Borba, February 22, 1973). Another aspect of aid that was particularly important for the Angolans was military training in Yugoslav military schools. The MPLA believed that the Yugoslavs, with their unique guerrilla experience in World War II, were able to provide a necessary training for their military cadres. In 1970, a high-ranking functionary of the MPLA and the future Angolan defense minister, Henrique (Iko) Teles Carreira, went on a three-week-long visit to Yugoslavia to learn about Yugoslav partisan experiences that “could be useful to them and applied to their situation.” In August 1971, six Angolans arrived for a four-month-long training in the Yugoslav People’s Army Infantry School in Sarajevo to learn about guerilla and diversionary tactics, and about Partisan experiences in organizing supply lines behind the frontline.

Yugoslavia furnished the MPLA with light infantry weapons, vehicles, artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons, but also communication equipment (Čavoški 2019). Moreover, Yugoslavia also sponsored the MPLA’s information bureau in Belgrade that served as an informal embassy and provided a number of scholarships and stipends for MPLA cadres. Yugoslav aid came at a critical moment for the MPLA, and according to some Angolan officials, it played an important role in sustaining the movement’s fighting capabilities (Gleijeses 2003, 348–349). Yugoslavia showed its dedication to Neto by supporting the MPLA even when other countries—including the USSR—suspended their aid in 1974 due to the so-called “Eastern Revolt” led by a faction within the movement (Sellstrom 1999, 17). An Angolan official said that, “Until August 1975, the country that helped the MPLA the most was Yugoslavia” (Gleijeses 2003, 349). The delegation of the MPLA that visited Yugoslavia in September 1975 said that Yugoslav aid in the critical months of 1975 served as an example to “some other friends [Cuba and the USSR] of the MPLA who, after that, became more engaged.” However, despite repeated request for additional aid, the Yugoslav coffers were empty.

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I made an account just to answer and I hope to provide some new information to the other 2 answers in this thread! My information comes from my grandfather who fought for the Cubans. Yugoslavia’s support came in the form of weapons and ships sent to Angola, boots on the ground were zero as far as my grandfather knows. Since most arms shipments came by sea Yugoslavia was a great help on that front since Cuba at this time had only 3 Corvette sized ships and mediocre Submarines that were basically U-Boats operating past their prime.

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