More than 200 Portuguese troops deployed on UN peacekeeping mission to Central African Republic
Portugal’s deployment to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA may mark a turning point in U.N. peacekeeping.
“There are only 200 Portuguese in the Central African Republic but, we have made a difference in the situation,” said Admiral Antonio Manuel Fernandes da Silva Riveiro, Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Armed Forces.
Portugal has deployed about 200 troops, mainly paratroopers, as part of the roughly 13,000-strong MINUSCA mission in the troubled Central African Republic, where conflict has raged since 2012.
The Portuguese posture has shifted from a traditional peacekeeping to a proactive “peace-enforcement” mandate. Portuguese forces and other U.N. contingents have patrolled aggressively and engaged in combat rarely seen in peacekeeping missions in the past.
This is not unprecedented in Africa. In March 2013, the U.N. Security Council allowed for the creation of a special intervention brigade within the separate MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to carry out targeted offensive operations.
In this case, Portugal has not acted alone and a host of nations have contributed soldiers to the mission. Rivieiro credited the Rwandans and Bangladeshis as capable forces who punched above their weight in the process of stabilizing the country. Rwanda is the largest contributor to MINUSCA with 1,825 troops as of August.
But Portugal is the only NATO member state taking part in the MINUSCA mission. In the past, Portugal also sent a small contingent to MINUSMA, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, where a Portuguese soldier was killed in a terrorist attack in Bamako in 2017.
So far no members of Portuguese armed forces have been killed.
Central Africa is the Portuguese military’s first real combat operation since 1974, Rivieiro said.
“Our experience in the CAR has validated our training and tactics. We knew our training would be valuable in combat and our operations have been a success,” he said.
Prompted by their experiences in CAR, the Portuguese Army is now undergoing a series of modernizations, ranging from man-deployable drones to new infantry weapons.
“We will receive a new family of light weapons and squad machine gun,” said Richard Camilo, a staff officer with the Force Planning Division of the Portuguese Army. Camilo spoke exclusively to the Defense Post at a SMi-organized conference in London last week.
Manuel Dos Santos of the youth wing of the Atlantic Treaty Association of Portugal said the armed forces have taken great pride in the CAR deployment in part because there have been no combat deaths despite the country’s involvement in heated combat operations.
“The Portuguese role in the Central African Republic shows our commitment to the international community and to the humanitarian needs of people far from Portugal,” he said.