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Flechas (Arrows) were a Portuguese special forces unit created during the Portuguese Colonial War. Flechas were platoon-sized units consisting of local tribesmen and rebel defectors who specialised in tracking, reconnaissance and pseudo-terrorist operations. They sometimes patrolled in captured uniforms and were rewarded with cash bounties for every guerrilla or guerrilla weapon they captured.

History

Flechas units were created and employed in Angolamarker under the command of the Portuguese PIDE. Composed of locally recruited men, often former guerrilla fighters or khoisan, the units specialised in tracking, reconnaissance and pseudo-terrorist operations. General Costa Gomes argued that African soldiers were cheaper, knew better the terrain, and were better able to create a relationship with the local populace, a tactic similar to the 'hearts and minds' strategy being used by United States forces in Vietnam at the time. Flechas units also operated in the Mozambique at the very end stages of the conflict, following the dismissal of Kaúlza de Arriaga on the eve of the Portuguese coup in 1974. The units were to continue to cause problems for the FRELIMO even after independence and Portuguese withdrawal, when the country splintered into civil war.

Organization and Equipment

They were initially created and organized by the PIDE Sub-Inspector Oscar Cardoso and first saw action in the remote areas that the Portuguese called Terras do Fim do Mundo (Lands of the End of the World) - the eastern region of Angola. The Flechas were organized in Battle Groups of about 30 men. They were equipped with the equipment in use in the Portuguese Army, but also used weapons captured the guerrillas, especially in Pseudo-Terrorist Operations.

Their best known uniform item was the Boina Camuflada (camouflage beret), which became one of its symbols.

Other SF Units

There were, in fact, a number of Portuguese special forces units that were unique to the Portuguese Colonial War:

  • Special Groups (Grupos Especiais): units similar to the ones used in Angola
  • Paratrooper Special Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-Quedistas): units of volunteer black soldiers that had paratrooper training
  • Combat Tracking Special Groups (Grupos Especiais de Pisteiros de Combate): special units trained in tracking


Notes


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