January 10

This Day in History

Cold War

Jan 10, 1989:

Cuban troops begin withdrawal from Angola

As part of an arrangement to decrease Cold War tensions and end a brutal war in Angola, Cuban troops begin their withdrawal from the African nation. The process was part of a multilateral diplomatic effort to end years of bloodshed in Angola—a conflict that, at one time or another, involved the Soviet Union, the United States, Portugal, and South Africa.

Angola officially became an independent nation in 1975, but even before the date of independence, various groups within the former Portuguese colony battled for control. One group, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), received support from the United States; another, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), got much of its support from the Soviet Union and Cuba; and a third group, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), pragmatically took aid from whatever source was available, including South Africa and China. The United States, the Soviet Union, and China each believed Angola was a critical battlefield for political dominance in mineral-rich and strategically important southern Africa.

By September 1975, South African troops were assisting UNITA forces in Angola. In November, Cuba—which became involved in Angola as part of Fidel Castro's aggressive foreign policy to assert Cuba's role in anticolonial struggles—responded by flying in thousands of troops to aid the MPLA. Their powerful assistance caused South African forces to withdraw.

In 1981, the South Africans, who saw an MPLA regime in Angola as threatening to its political control of neighboring Namibia, again invaded Angola and increased their aid to UNITA. UNITA's leader, Jonas Savimbi courted U.S. assistance and visited with President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The United States responded with military aid for UNITA's forces and demanded that the Cuban troops depart Angola. As fighting escalated, Castro dispatched 15,000 additional troops to Africa.

Throughout 1987 and 1988, UNITA and MPLA forces and their respective allies fought increasingly bloody battles. Sensing that the situation was spiraling out of control, the United States helped broker an agreement in December 1988 between Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, whereby the three nations vowed to remove all foreign forces from Angola. All three nations had expended vast amounts of manpower and money in the seemingly endless conflict and Cuba, in particular, was eager to negotiate a graceful exit. The Cuban troops began their withdrawal a few weeks later, and by 1991 they were gone.

The situation in Angola was another indication that, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, Africa was coming to play a more significant role in the Cold War geopolitics. Additionally, the Cuban intervention in the conflict was yet another event that served to chill relations between the United States and Cuba.

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