The battalions put on a marvelous parade today. They wheel by the reviewing enclosure, snapping off a sharp eyes-right. They are goodlooking men -- and boys. Some of them are very small and young -- 14- and 15-year-olds -- barely as tall as the grenade launcher one of them carries.

There are the usual songs (about two hours' worth) and then a mighty chant:

"Down with Russia!

"Down with Brezhnev!

"Down with Cuba!

"Down with Castro!

"Down with the MPLA!

"Down with dos Santos!"

A young woman recites a poem written by Jonas Savimbi. It is hard to translate, but the substance is this:

"A lion is a soldier.

"A lion is a frightening beast in the countryside.

"As lions, we must be frightening to the MPLA."

Each time she speakes the word "lion," the battalions grunt and roar. Like lions.

The main event is a morality play, enacted in the center of the parade ground.

Scene one: Leonid Brezhnev, Fidel Castro and the late Agostinho Neto, first president of the Popular Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA), sit around a table to make a devil's bargain. Brezhnev and Castro will send arms and men to Angola. Neto will give them the country's wealth. (Neto's MPLA emerged victorious from the civil war of the mid-1970s.)

Scene two: Cuban troops arrive, invade a village, abuse and kill the peasants and steal their possessions.

Scene three: guerrillas of the National Union for the Total Independence of Nagola (UNITA), which Savimbi heads, hear the cries of the peasants and vow to save them.

Scene four: The guerrillas attack the Cubans and rout them.

Scene five: Brezhnev, Castro and Neto learn of the uprising and flee for their lives.

Miguel Puna loved it. He then staged an event I had not expected.

He marched onto the parade ground and called me and my British colleague, Fred Bridgland, to step forward for introductions. As we stood there, facing the troops, he lectured us in English on the necessity for the West to join UNITA's struggle against communism.

Then it was my turn. He wanted me to speak. I realized in that instant that now and all through this trip, Bridgland and I were moral props in the drama, offered up to the troops as symbols of Western concern and resolve.

I was damned if I would make a political speech to please Puna. Instead, I thank the battalions for their hospitality, praise them for their spirit, their singing, their dancing and express the wish that Angola will soon know peace.

(Some days later, Savimbi would do it again, introducing me to a battalion in the south as a man "close to Reagan." I was furious. My only proximity to Ronald Reagan is geographical. Our offices are a few blocks from the White House.)

I gave Puna a hard look when it was over. He was all smiles.

There is an important purpose to these rallies, which we encountered in every UNITA camp. They are an important form of political indoctrination, a marriage of traditional African rituals with UNITA's ideological goals. They are morale builders, creating a strong sense of comradeship in common sacrifice and a collective belief in ultimate victory.

That is all necessary in this war. This is an army of tough peasants, led by educated men trained in China, Morocco and Senegal. Puna, for all his affected primitivism, is a Peking graduate, steeped in the warfare doctrines of Mao Tes-tung and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap of Vietnam. So are Savimbi, Brig. Samuel Chiwale, the Army field commander, and several of the battalion commanders. Others, like Chilingutila and Renato Mateus, were career officers in the Portuguese Army. About 500 of the younger officers have undergone long periods of training in Morocco, coming back with their heads full of 20th century military theories.

The soldiers, on the other hand, are unschooled. They come out of the bush and enlist for the duration. Some have been fighting for five years. They receive no pay. They cook their own meals of corn porridge with occasional pieces of meat from game animals. They sleep on the ground. There are no furloughs, no days off. There are no women, no commissaries. In more than three weeks in Angola, I never saw what we call "money." It doesn't exist. You live off the land and by barter.

For all this, the morale of the troops is incredibly high. In part it is the result of UNITA's incessant and effective propagandizing or "consciousness-raising." In part it is a product of success. The struggle for the town of Mavinga, which resulted in UNITA's most substantial military victory, contributed to that. The upgrading of the Army from a guerrilla force into a mixed force with regular battalions equipped with modern weapons and trucks has impressed the troops greatly. "I feel very strong," a young soldier tells me. His war name is Red Sun. He has been in the bush for five years. "We can move in lorries now. We have a regular Army. We have SAM missiles. We shoot down airplanes. wWe chase them away."

Their confidence and morale also is built by constant training. The two battalions here, the 275th and 210th, are just three weeks out of heavy combat. Their daily routine begins at 5 a.m. with a physical fitness regimen (to the accompaniment of songs), followed by a day-long series of classes. They study enemy organization charts, battle formations and tactics. There are classes in weapons operation and maintenance, small unit maneuvers, individual combat techniques. For the unlettered -- of whom there are many -- literacy classes are compulsory.

Before coming out here, I had heard from UNITA critics and from British journalists that any military success UNITA might have was the work of South Africans. It was a racist argument, based on the prejudice that Africans are not capable of fighting, particularly with modern weapons. The argument is untrue. These lads knew what they were doing.

Puna is pleased with the regimen, as much, I suspect, because it is tough as because it is effective. "We must not give these people time to sit around with sad thoughts," he said."When it is dark they will sleep."

I am reminded of a U.S. Marine drill sergeant in the ancient past. He chewed tobacco and sprayed juice with every command.