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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.
Flechas units were created and employed in Angola under the command of the Portuguese secret police (PIDE). Composed of locally recruited men, often former guerrilla fighters but mostly bushman khoisan, the units specialised in tracking, reconnaissance and pseudo-terrorist operations. The Flechas were employed with great success in the Frente Leste campaign in Eastern Angola in the early 1970s. 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 that precludes the 'hearts and minds' strategy later used by United States forces in Vietnam at the time. Flechas units also operated in 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, although the formation way often loose. They were equipped with some of the equipment in use in the Portuguese Army, but most troops used weapons captured from the guerrillas and some used traditional weapons like bows and spears.
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
- Roelof J. Kloppers : Border Crossings : Life in the Mozambique / South Africa Borderland since 1975. University of Pretoria. 2005. Online. Retrieved on 13 March 2007
- Brig. Michael Calvert, Counter-Insurgency in Mozambique, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, no. 118, March 1973