South Africa is taking comfort from the mild United States reaction to its military strike into Angola. Ostensibly, the raid is to knock out terrorist bases in the neighboring territory.
But there are increasing indications that the major objective was to knock out missile bases that have become a serious threat to the air superiority that South Africa enjoys over the guerrilla forces.
If true, this latest military incursion into Angola would suggest that warfare in this southwestern corner of the African continent now is being conducted at a far more sophisticated level.
South African military analysts have alleged that Angola, aided by Cuba and East Germany, had deployed ground-to-air missiles in Lubango. Some 20,000 Cuban troops are deployed on Angolan soil.
South Africa's government-controlled radio services and at least one important government-supporting Afrikaans newspaper have emphasized what the paper called the "conspicuously" different reaction of the US to South Africa's incursion into Angola, compared to that of other Western countries.
Only the Americans, said the Cape Town-based newspaper, Die Burger, mouthpiece of the ruling National Party, had emphasized that the attack by South African forces had to be seen in the light of "terrorist attacks in South-West Africa [Namibia] and the presence of Cuban soldiers in Angola."
The paper was referring to the statement by US State Department spokesman Dean Fisher, who is quoted as saying that the South African "attack must be seen in its full context."
Among other things, this included "attacks in Namibia by the South-West African People's Organization [SWAPO] from sanctuaries in Angola, as well as the sustained, presence of Cuban forces in Angola six years after that country's independence, and the supply of Soviet weapons to SWAPO."
Die Burger also declares in a leading article that it should be accepted that the South African government considered things very seriously before undertaking the present "limited" military action in Angola.
South Africa had only two alternatives, the paper says. Either it could allow SWAPO to build up its forces across the border for its "terrorist onslaught" even more strongly, and with increasingly sophisticated weaponry, or it had to strike quickly to eliminate that "immediate danger."
In fact, the officer commanding the South African forces in Namibia, Maj. Gen. Charles Lloyd, may almost have given the show away more than 10 days ago when he told journalists in the Namibian capital of windhoek that there was a chance of the border struggle developing into a more encompassing "conventional" war.
He was answering questions about the alleged deployment of surface-to-air missiles at the port of Mocamedes, reportedly an important supply sort for SWAPO , and at the Angolan provincial capital of Lubango.
One of the factors favoring the South Africans has been their overwhelming air superiority, but the general noted that the missiles could seriously hamper the South African Air Force and provide a protective umbrella for SWAPO.
Reports published in South Africa Aug. 27 from the Angolan news agency Angop, received through Lisbon, said that fighting had increased in intensity and speculated that two South African motorized columns, backed by heavy air power, were making for Lubango, which is more than 200 miles from the Namibian border. Later reports indicated South African forces were withdrawing after allegedly occupying and destroying the town of Kangongo (formerly Rocadas), about 60 miles inside the Angola border, and bombing N'Giva (formerly Pereira de Eca).
However, South African Prime Minister Pieter Botha has told the South African Parliament that reports about the incursion have been "grossly exaggerated." But the defense force is still not releasing any details of what actually is happening.
In an interesting development Aug. 27, an important air base at Ondangwa in northern Namibia has been reopened to civilian traffic, ending a five-day restriction. A second airfield, at Ruacana, was reopened to civilian traffic Aug. 25 after being closed to all but military aircraft for 36 hours. That could be a signal that the military operation was coming to an end. Alexander MacLeod reports from London:
Leading West European governments have begun acting in concert to secure the rapid withdrawal of South African forces from Angola and relaunch diplomatic moves to speed the independence process in Namibia.
After initial hesitation while they tried to determine the scale and nature of South Africa's latest military drive, Britain, West Germany, and France strongly condemned it as a threat to the stability of southern Africa.
Britain, West Germany, and France are the European members of the five-nation Western contact group that is trying to pump new life into international moves to promote independence talks on the future of Namibia.
The tough stance adopted by the three partly reflected anxiety that the South African operation would destroy the independence process and heighten the risk of an open clash between the republic's forces and Cuban troops in Angola.
It coincided with visits to London, Bonn, and Paris by the foreign ministers of six countries belonging to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which is keen to apply pressure on South Africa over Namibia.
One factor prompting the sharp European reaction was a well-based report that the operation into Angola was being personally directed from Windhoek by South Africa's defense minister, Gen. Magnus Malan.
This indicated that the operation was of considerable magniture and military importance. Earlier pursuit operations into Angola had been directed by military commanders based on Namibia.