UNlocked in Angola

Lt Gen KJ Singh (Retd)

The current spell of lockdowns unlocked a flood of reminiscences of my maiden quarantine throughout UN peacemaking operations in Angola in 1993. My crew was deployed within the historic city of Cuito Cuanavale, witness to main battles, actually the ‘Panipat of Africa’. This city outlined the ceasefire line between two warring factions, Russian and Cuban-backed ruling group MPLA and the West-backed UNITA, led by the dreaded Jonas Savimbi. Our residing quarters had been in a war-ravaged constructing, pock-marked with shells and bullets. While we cribbed, an even bigger shock awaited me.

During the primary rotation, I used to be nominated as Team Commander, Mucuio. It was a insurgent stronghold surrounded by minefields, deep inside jungle territory. Our habitation was three thatched huts, constructed on stilts to maintain out reptiles and snakes. All provides, mail and water had been ferried by a weekly lifeline, a helicopter sortie.

Rationing of water pressured me to improvise the alum and water purification package to utilise water from the close by pond for bathing and primary hygiene; nonetheless, my team-mates discovered it an pointless danger.

Leadership in UN is persuasive and my crew included two officers, Bob White from Canada and Gordon from Guinea Bissau. Gordon, the language interpreter, knew little or no English and in making an attempt to speak with him, I ended up enhancing my Portuguese significantly, which proved a blessing later.

The place had a pure lockdown impact as a result of concern of snakes, wildlife, mines and munitions littered throughout. We had no Internet and mobiles. Our solely reference to the skin world was an HF hi fi, restricted to a cryptic night report. Just earlier than the resupply, Capt White had a well being concern and flew out. Next week, it was the flip of Maj Gordon to go away, once more on medical grounds. He was changed by Maj Abdulla from Jordan. His linguistic abilities had been restricted to little or no English. As commander, I had no alternative however to utilise a smattering of Portuguese, mixed with signal language, to speak with the rebels.

The subsequent welcome resupply mission, satirically sufficient, proved to be the harbinger of quarantine. MI-Eight choppers in UN had been flown by Russian pilots, with elementary proficiency in English. They had been at all times in a rush and the routine concerned a frenetic unloading of gas barrels, jerry cans and cartons, and loading empty ones.

After the helicopter took off, I couldn’t find my colleague and raised an emergency on the hi fi after a radical search. In a really apologetic tone, I used to be instructed that my team-mate had hid contained in the helicopter and travelled again to HQ. His rationalization was easy, he simply couldn’t deal with the place.

Now, I used to be actually below quarantine for the following week, until the resupply mission. In any case, we at all times had been sustaining social distance with rebels. That expertise acted as a form of vaccine, for future lockdowns.

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