Savimbi, helped by the Republican government in the U.S, the apartheid government in South Africa, and African leaders such as Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre, led a 16-year guerrilla war against the Marxist government of Angola after it became independent in 1975 The civil war killed more than 1 million people from 1975 to 1991 and destroyed many parts of the country.
In 1986 he was invited by US president Ronald Reagan to the White House. Reagan spoke of Unita winning "a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom".
After a cease-fire he ran for president in 1992 but refused to accept the results when he didn't win, and resumed fighting. In 1994, Unita signed a new peace accord but Savimbi declined the vice-presidency that was offered and renewed fighting in 1998. He was killed in a battle with government troops in March, 2002, and a ceasefire between UNITA and the MPLA was signed six weeks later.