Central Southern AfricaReport

Report from Bangui 4. Portuguese commandos on the front line in CAR

Portuguese commandos aboard a Land Rover Defender, created for special forces (@LH/B2)

(BRUSSELS2 - in Bangui) They are commandos, Portuguese (1)... in principle, we expect them on lands other than the Central African Republic. And yet, these 159 men have become indispensable within the UN mission, MINUSCA. Their mission: to contribute to the stabilization, security and control of the Central African territory. Having just returned from operations in the northwest, B2 was able to meet them in Bangui.

The “last resort”

They are the " last resort when politics and negotiations do not work and only force seems possible in the face of armed groups. They thus intervened recently in Bocaranga. Around mid-September the 3R armed group had taken control of this locality in the north-west of the Central African Republic. The 15.000 inhabitants having deserted, Bocaranga was no more than a " ghost town ».

The recovery of Bocaranga

The contingent of Bangladeshi blue helmets was limited to protecting the NGO base, where the humanitarian personnel took refuge, and the camp for displaced people next to their position. A delegation from MINUSCA and the government tried to obtain the withdrawal of the armed group. No result. It was therefore the Portuguese commandos, aboard armored vehicles, who were sent to retake the city, with air support from combat helicopters. The operation, against these 100-115 rebels, lasted two days (7 and 8 October). The Portuguese inspecting house by house. They found there many prisoners, locked in a room of their own house ". If there have been armed clashes, nothing that they have not already seen on other fields of operation. The worst ? : “ poverty, the living conditions of the population... »

... then head for Bang

Once all the members of the armed group were expelled from the city, it was the contingents from Bangladesh and Rwanda who took over, with the mission of controlling the city and preventing the return of the 3R, other armed groups, including the anti-balaka. The Portuguese took the road to Bang, a small village further north (only two kilometers from Chad), which also had to be taken back... Each deployment can last up to a month.

In Bangui: preparation 

When not deployed in the Central African regions, the Portuguese are based in Bangui, at Camp M'Poko. They then have three tasks: maintaining the equipment (vehicles, weapons, equipment, etc.), maintaining a " high level of individual and collective preparation and update their knowledge of the situation in the country. For this last point, the intelligence officer, who works permanently with the headquarters (HQ) of MINUSCA, transmits the information to them. " We need to know how each of the armed groups is evolving. Objective: to prepare all possible scenarios.

... and patrols

During the three weeks between deployments, they also carry out patrols in Bangui, with blue helmets of other nationalities. If the situation is calmer in Bangui, the level of alert must be maximum, in particular because of specific incidents which can happen quickly. NB: the attack on a bar, killing four people, on the night of Saturday to Sunday November 12, as well as the clashes which followed are an example.

Intense preparation in Portugal 

Before being deployed as a rapid reaction force of MINUSCA, the commando companies go through three stages of preparation. Firstly, administrative preparation and logistics (authorisation, obtaining special passports, health preparation, etc.). Secondly, operational preparation centered on individual but also collective capabilities. This point provides for the systematization of knowledge on MINUSCA, the field of operation and the mission of the various components of the Military Force ". During the training, the commandos were placed in "battle rhythm" in order to exercise " the planning and execution of combat and stabilization operations at the "group" and "company" level under conditions similar to those existing in the TO ". A final certification exercise is organised. Third, the preparation for the projection.

(Leonor Hubaut)

(1) The Portuguese detachment, of 159 people, is composed of a company of 90 commandos and a team of three people belonging to the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) of the Portuguese Air Force, a command and a support detachment with 66 people. They are based in the French camp of M'Poko, in Bangui.

(2) Arriving in September, this was the first deployment of these commandos. The first rotation (January-August 2017) was deployed in the east of the country, in particular to take over Bambari. Read : MINUSCA air intervention in Bambari

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Leonor Hubaut

© B2 - Bruxelles2 is a French online media that focuses on political Europe (powers, defence, foreign policy, internal security). It follows and analyzes developments in European policy, unvarnished and without concessions. Approved by the CPPAP. Member of SPIIL. Please quote "B2" or "Bruxelles2" in case of recovery Leonor Hubaut is a journalist. Graduated in international relations from the Free University of Brussels (specialization in globalization). She covers for B2 the work of the European Parliament, CSDP missions and African issues. Sahel specialist.