Episode 70 – Operation Askari missteps at Cahama and Cuvelai

It’s operation Askari, and 61 Mech’s has fulfilled the first part of the plan, driving FAPLA out of Quiteve and now were approaching Cahama, which is 96 kilometers north west of Xangongo. This was going to be a tough nut to crack. FAPLAs second Brigade was ensconced in strongly fortified positions to the north and south of the town. The defenders had become used to SADF and SA Air Force attacks, if you remember during Operation Protea the Air Force had hammered radar installations at Cahama and the Recces spent a lot of time around the little town.
So after years of battering, defences had been beefed up, bunkers were deeper, heavier weapons abounded.
Busy in the air through most of November and December 1983 was the SA Air Force’s Garrha Remote Piloted Vehicle, or drone, and it had discovered the location of enemy SA8 missile systems. The photographs were blurry, but the location was clear. They were in positions around the town.
Brigadier Joop Joubert who commanded all SADF forces during Askari expected these defenders to wilt as the pressure rose through December and into January 1984 – he just needed time to do – and time was not on his side.
However, in what turned out to be a jaw-dropping miscommunication, the planners forgot to inform the Air Force about Combat Team Delta Foxtrot, which was about 45km south west of Caiundo on the western bank of the Cubango River. That was about 130km east of the main target of Cuvelai, and even in a Puma or a Mirage, that’s a long way to go to offer support.
On the 23rd of December and about 2 kilometers west of Cahama, the SA Air Force drone was damaged by shrapnel from an SA-8 ground to air missile. The operators managed to keep the RPV in the air and it headed back to Xangongo where it landed safely.