Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974

Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974

Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974

Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961-1974

Synopsis

The first comprehensive account in English of how the Portuguese Armed Forces prepared for and conducted a distant counterinsurgency campaign in its African possessions with very limited resources, choosing to stay and fight despite the small odds for success. The Portuguese military crafted its doctrine and implemented it to match the guerrilla strategy of protracted war, and in doing so, followed the lessons gleaned from the British and French experiences in small wars. The Portuguese approach to the conflict was distinct in that it sought to combine the two-pronged national strategy of containing the cost of the war and of spreading the burden to the colonies with the solution on the battlefield. It describes how Portugal defined and analyzed its insurgency problem in light of the available knowledge on counterinsurgency, how it developed its military policies and doctrines in this context, and how it applied them in the African colonial environment. The uniqueness of its approach is highlighted through a thematic military analysis of the Portuguese effort and a comparison with the experiences of other governments fighting similar contemporaneous wars.

Excerpt

The archetypal small war is more relevant than ever today. Although superpower confrontation and its proxy wars of national liberation are quiescent at the moment, ethnic, religious, political, and economic rivalries remain on every continent. In sub-Saharan Africa particularly, where animosities have been a fact of life throughout recorded history, armed conflict driven by ancient antagonisms and modem political ambitions has again become symptomatic. These struggles largely follow the Maoist prescription of protracted war, always a difficult and insidious threat for any incumbent government to fight and win. And yet there are tried and proven solutions to gaining victory in these circumstances. Dr. John P. Cann provides just such a case study in this work.

Portugal was the first colonial power to arrive in Africa and the last to leave. As other European states were granting independence to their African possessions, Portugal chose to stay and fight despite the small odds for success. That it did so successfully for thirteen years across the three fronts of Angola, Guiné, and Mozambique remains a remarkable achievement, particularly for a nation of such modest resources. Dr. Cann calls attention to this important counterinsurgency campaign, one that was overshadowed by the United States involvement in Vietnam and that is now largely forgotten by non-Portuguese scholars. He dispels the conventional thinking that such a campaign cannot be won, particularly by a country lacking wealth in manpower, treasure, and experience. While the military plays a key role in counterinsurgency, at heart it remains a political struggle. Consequently, the job of the armed forces is not necessarily to deliver an outright military victory, but rather to contain violence, protect people from intimidation, deny guerrillas access to the local inhabitants and their supply of food and recruits, gain the people's confidence with psychological and social initiatives, and through these activities produce enough respect among the insurgent leadership to induce political negotiations.

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