If Cuban troops do join the fight in Syria, here’s a piece of advice for the CIA-backed terror groups – start praying harder.EPA
Reports in the American media that Cuban military personnel are advising Syria President Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers have sent a wave of panic through the West. The reports – like much of what comes out of the US-UK spin factory – turned out to be untrue, but the fear it raised in western militaries was very real. For, the West has faced the tough as nails Cubans and it doesn’t want to face them again – ever.
The Cuban defence forces are no stranger to Syria. During the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, 52 Cuban health personnel arrived to support the Syrians. Next came hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Cuban military personnel who operated Russian military equipment such as tanks and MiG-23 jets and provided training to the Syrians.
With Russian backing, the Cuban foreign military aid programme extended to Algeria, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Cameroon, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. On many occasions the Cuban military fought vicious battles against Western proxies and often came out on top, most spectacularly in 1977 when a Cuban-Ethiopian pincer supported by a massive Russian airlift of tanks and artillery defeated US-backed Somalia.
Rumble in Angola
However, it was in Angola that the Cuban military machine tasted its most celebrated victory, crushing the occupying South Africa Defence Forces (SADF), and contributing to the quick collapse of apartheid.
Cuba first sent troops in November 1975 following a request from Angolan President Agostinho Neto who feared a South African invasion. The South Africans, who were supporting the murderous Jonas Savimbi and his Unita rebel force, found plenty of backers in the West, especially the US, UK and France.
Alarmed by the growing involvement of the Americans and Europeans in the war, Cuba poured more than 65,000 troops into Angola. This was one of the fastest military mobilisations in history as Moscow airlifted brand new tanks, artillery and MiG-23 fighter-bombers directly from Russia to Africa, allowing the Cubans to travel light.
Cuban President Fidel Castro took personal command of the operation, dedicating himself so obsessively to the task that he “practically didn’t do government work in 1988”.
Nobel Prize winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez recounts Castro’s dedication: “Fidel Castro kept himself informed of the minutest details of the war. He personally saw off every ship bound for Angola, having previously addressed the fighting units in the La Cabana theatre; he himself sought out the commanders of the special forces battalion who went on the first flight and drove them in his own Soviet jeep right to the aircraft stairs.”
He adds: “By then, there was not a single dot on the map of Angola that he was unable to identify, nor any feature of the land that he did not know by heart. His absorption in the war was so intense and meticulous that he could quote any statistic relating to Angola as if it were Cuba itself, and he spoke of its towns, customs and peoples as if he had lived there all his life. In the early stages of the war, when the situation was urgent, Fidel Castro would spend up to 14 hours at a stretch in the command room of the general staff, at times without eating or sleeping, as if he were on the battlefield himself. He followed the course of battles with pins on minutely detailed wall-sized maps, keeping in constant touch with the (Angolan) high command on a battlefield where the time was six hours later.”
The last hot battle of the Cold War
The key to Angola was the town of Cuito Cuanavale, where between October 1987 and June 1988 Cuban and Angolan government troops clashed with the South African Defence Force (SADF) in some of the fiercest fighting in Africa since the World War II. Castro famously observed that “the history of Africa will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale”.
In pitched tank and artillery battles the Cuban-Angolan armies beat the living daylights out of the South African army. Horace Campbell, professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University, New York, writes: “The South African apartheid army, supposedly one of the better equipped armies in Africa was trapped more than three hundred miles from its bases in Namibia, a territory which it was illegally occupying.”
“Failing to take Cuito Cuanavale with over 9,000 soldiers even after announcing to the world that Cuito Cuanavale had fallen; losing its superiority in the air; and faced with mutinies from the black troops of the pressed ganged battalions, the operational command of the SADF broke down and the president P.W. Botha had to fly to the war zone inside Angola. Botha, it was later revealed had flown in to intervene in a dispute among the South African military high command on whether the apartheid army should use tactical nuclear weapons. Botha decided against the use of nuclear weapons because at that time apartheid South Africa was a pariah state.”
(What the Russians would have done to the racist regime had it used nuclear weapons on the Cubans and Angolans isn’t hard to imagine.)
The South African army made one desperate attempt to break the encirclement on June 27, 1988. But by then the game was up. Cuban and Angolan MiG-23 pilots blew away the South African Air Force from Angolan skies. Edward George describes in his book 'The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965-1991' a June 1988 attack by a dozen Cuban MiG-23s on a dam in the town of Calueque.
Skimming the tops of trees at over 600 miles per hour, “the first wave flew in over the dam, one pair of MiGs providing cover for a second which dropped six parachute-retarded bombs, severely damaging the bridge and nearby sluice-gates”.
“A second pair bombed the power plant and engine rooms, while a seventh MiG veered off from the main group and dropped eight bombs on the freshwater pipeline to Ovambo, blowing it to pieces and setting its adjacent electricity plant on fire.”
George paints a vivid picture of the dash and exuberance of the Cuban air force pilots: “With the hydroelectric installations engulfed in flames and smoke, the Cuban MiGs flew back over Calueque – one pilot rolling his aircraft and flying inverted over the dam.”
Cuban assistance to Angola in repelling the brutal apartheid army was vital. Nelson Mandela said Cuito Cuanavale was “a turning point for the liberation of our continent and my people”. Germany’s Neus Deutschland called Cuito Cuanavale “Africa’s Stalingrad”.
Ronnie Kasrils, a senior member of Mandela’s cabinet, says of the Cubans: “Those patriots and internationalists were motivated by a single goal – an end to racial rule and genuine African independence. After 13 years of defending Angolan sovereignty, the Cubans took nothing home except the bones of their fallen and our gratitude.”
Endgame of Apartheid
Defeat at Cuito Cuanavale spelled the doom of apartheid and the victory of the South African liberation movement. Just three years later, apartheid officially ended.
The speed with which Cuban troops moved into Angola exposed the extent of US collusion with the apartheid regime, and derailed the CIA’s plans to ramp up support for South Africa. (This has an uncanny parallel to Russia’s lighting strikes in Syria that have exposed US involvement in Syria.)
Cuban involvement in foreign wars was not only motivated by ideology but also because Castro strongly believed in wars of liberation. Ideology no longer counts and it remains to be seen if Russia will request support from its Cold War buddy.
If Cuban troops do join the fight in Syria, here’s a piece of advice for the CIA-backed terror groups – start praying harder.
The opinion of the writer does not necessarily reflect the position of RIR.
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