Counter-insurgency strategy is a global business. Such is the story of the ‘flechas’ (arrows). Begun in Angola, the ‘flechas’ became a regional code name for recruiting local intelligence and counter-insurgency troops in the white minority strongholds of Southern Africa: Southern Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, and South African controlled South West Africa. Oscar Cardoso, PIDE (International Police for Defense of the State – Portugal’s secret police) agent and reputed founder of the ‘flechas’ – crack, commando troops – first formed in Angola to fight the liberation movements (FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA) found worldwide sources of inspiration: Jean Lartéguy’s writings, Spencer Chapman’s, “The Jungle is Neutral”; T.E. Lawrence’s, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; Mao Tse Tung’s, “Revolutionary War”; and Sun Tze’s, “ The Art of War.”
In Cuando Cubango, Angola’s southernmost reaches, he met the khoisan/bushmen he’d studied in Lisbon’s Instituto Superior de Estudos Ultramarinos (Higher Institute of Overseas Studies – Gerald Bender called the scholarship produced there “unmitigatedly eurocentric”). Amazed by their hunting and tracking skills, their poor treatment by local chiefs, and their ‘primitive’ condition, he decided to recruit them to form an intelligence collection and counter-insurgency unit to fight UNITA forces in the region. Following on their success, PIDE posts in other provinces recruited ‘flechas’ from local populations, especially from those who’d defected or been captured from the liberation movement armies (thanks to Alvaro Manuel Alves Cardoso, a Portuguese Army Major).
After the overthrow of the Portuguese Estado Novo – it had a cameo in last year’s White History Month – by the Movement of Armed Forces, Cardoso spent two years in prison as part of Portugal’s national reckoning. Once released, he fled the country to escape retribution for his involvement in anti-government activity (he’s an avowed anti-socialist).
Where did he go? Not to Lartéguy’s France, Chapman’s England, or Mao’s China (to be sure). He went to Salisbury (today’s Harare) to work for Ian Smith’s regime, Ken Flower, and the CIO. They needed ‘flechas’ to combat ZANU forces. But he felt he was poorly treated so he headed to Johannesburg. And there, thanks to his links to military intelligence from his PIDE days, he got a gig. Only this time with UNITA (to keep SWAPO out of Angola). Today he’s a decorated South African military coronel who received a 100,000 euro lump sum pension. As he himself notes, many of the Angolan ‘flechas’ used in that campaign, like those from the 32 Battalion, live abandoned, forgotten, and penniless … in Pomfret, South Africa.
Stranger still, as he told Jornal de Angola in 2014, while he was sent by the PIDE to Angola to foil a plot by its local director São José Lopes, working in cahoots with groups in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, to proclaim settler independence in Angola, his entire post-PIDE trajectory is an exercise in white privilege bouncing around Southern Africa’s independent white settler states, undergirded by the Alcora Exercise, the secret accord between Portugal’s Estado Novo, apartheid South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia to maintain white dominance in the region (just not a breakaway white settler state in Angola).