Friday, 6 April 2012

Task Force Blue & The Dogs of War

Colonel Shannon (at the wheel) and his merry men: from left - Gary Watson (in beret); Kurt Semmler; Jan Dupree; Jean Langarotti

I'm spending the next week or so putting the finishing touches to Task Force Blue. This is the operation invading Angola from the north with a battalion of FNLA troops supported by two battalions of Zaire's army. The leadership and specialist troops are provided by mercenaries recruited by Anglo-Irishman C.A.T Shannon, appointed 'colonel' by Holden Roberto, the FNLA leader.

This Shannon is based on the anti-hero of Fredrick Forsyth's novel "The Dogs of War', although he is clearly not the same guy. He's alive, for one thing - Forsyth's Shannon shot himself after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Our Shannon gets involved in Angola almost five years after he successfully organised and led a coup in Zangaro. In the interim he's worked in the Sudan and the Middle East and took on the FNLA contract despite his misgivings of working for an organisation that was involved with the CIA.

The quality of the troops he's commanding is woeful. The FNLA have spent at least ten years in barracks in Zaire and really aren't up for a scrap. The two Zairian Commando Battalions he's been assigned are very poor- President Mobuto has loaned them to his brother in law Roberto largely because he wants them in Angola where he believes they are potentially less trouble than if they were back home.

Despite this, Task Force Blue has made good progress. There has been virtually no resistance from the MPLA's military wing, FAPLA, and during the few encounters with hostile forces TF Blue's electic mix of technicals - Toyotas, Landrovers and Jeeps - have proved decisive weapons.

It's 30 October 1975 and Shannon is 50km from Luanda. He has about 1000 men still with him (the rest have deserted) plus 60 or so white mercenaries, about half of whom are former Portuguese army. He has plenty of transport - trucks and technicals - but is struggling for fuel and medical supplies (one of the perennial problems of running mercenary based operations is providing adequate medical support). In the above picture one of his men is about to be MEDEVACed by a CIA supplied helicopter (he's the one whose feet Semmler is cradling).

Shannon plans to halt for a few days before deciding whether to drive on the capital. His decision will be influenced by how successful he is in solving the supply situation and to what extent the southern task forces can support any attack on Luanda. He has meeting with Roberto tomorrow and is expecting to be told that he has to attack at once.

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