Isn't it time for the United States to halt its support of the guerrilla war against the government of Angola?

The question is before the House Intelligence Committee, scheduled to meet today, and the answer seems clearer than at any time since the Angolan civil war began. Virtually every rationale for our continued support has evaporated.

The Cold War, which had embroiled Angola in the East-West struggle, is over. At least one former rebel leader, Moises Kambaya Gaspar of the FNLA, is convinced the government is at last serious in its search for peace. The Cuban troops, whose presence in Angola had been cited by the U.S. administration as a reason for its support of the rebels, are mostly gone, and the rest will be gone by the middle of next year. And the government of Angola has offered to make UNITA a partner in rewriting the constitution and ending the struggle.

Only the United States and South Africa continue to withhold recognition from the Angolan government, and South Africa has virtually stopped its aid to the rebels. Without the covert aid from the United States, which has grown from an estimated $15 million four years ago to somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million for fiscal 1990, UNITA would almost certainly seek a compromise to end the fighting. With U.S. military aid, which reportedly has been growing to make up for the loss of South African assistance, Jonas Savimbi's forces have no incentive to seek peace.

Gaspar, who headed the FNLA, which for years fought against the government, has been traveling the United States, urging an end to American support of UNITA. Now an American citizen, he says he was invited to meet with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in March and came away convinced that the government is serious about peace.

"The talks we held {in Luanda} convinced me that the government has, indeed, a sincere desire for peace and change," he said in an interview this week. "He is ready to revise the constitution, agree to a cease-fire, turn toward a market economy, get rid of the last of the Cubans -- everything UNITA has demanded. The more the government does, the more is demanded."

However understandable UNITA's intransigence might be, it's hard to come up with a justification for America's continued support of the rebels. Notwithstanding our refusal to recognize the Angolan government, we are now that country's No. 1 trading partner and the largest purchaser of Angolan oil. Thus we are in the position of supporting guerrilla attacks against our own oil sources. It makes no sense.

"There was a time when my government and yours were separated by vast political differences," Angola's ambassador to the United Nations, Manuel Pedro Pacavira, told me. "That time has passed. We have joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We have made peace with many of our former adversaries. We have met the conditions your government outlined for peace.

"And yet your Congress and president continue to cling to a romantic vision of UNITA as the bearer of American-style democracy -- a vision, I might add, that bears no resemblance to UNITA's actions in my country.

"Our people have suffered enough. In my country, one child dies every four minutes, conferring upon Angola the world's highest mortality rate. More than 50,000 people are amputees, most of them women and children, and more than 800,000 civilians face starvation resulting from the combination of war and drought. This is the legacy of war, a legacy we can change now."

Why has the United States insisted on continuing -- even escalating -- its support of a group that cannot overthrow the government but only continue the devastation? I put the question to William Minter, author of "King Solomon's Mines" and other works on southern Africa.

"Primarily history," he said. "The U.S. intervened in 1975, and the Congress and the Cubans put a stop to it. We lost, and we've got the idea we've got to win. That's one reason.

"A second reason is that UNITA has had a very effective lobbying effort in the Congress. And the third may be simply inertia."

Considering the human costs of the war -- the deaths, the maiming, the economic devastation -- the reasons seem almost criminally trivial.

Both the House and Senate committees that pass on covert aid have been looking at the desirability of continued military support of the rebels. One hopes that the House panel that meets today will muster the courage to say: no more.

It's time to test the credibility of the Angolan government, to credit the moves it has already taken and close down this pointless war. Whatever the validity of the earlier rationales for our support of UNITA, the changed circumstances -- in the region and in the world -- demand a reevaluation.