Major Felipe Biasi Filho, Captain Pedro Henrique de Araujo Bezerra Mendes, and Captain Albemar Rodrigues Lima, all from the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese), are part of an unprecedented Brazilian mission to the Central African Republic (CAR). The officers are part of a group of 180 service members from 12 nations, who work at the European Training Mission in the Central African Republic or EUTM RCA (RCA being the French acronym for the African country).
EUTM RCA, with headquarters in Bangui, the country’s capital, is a peacekeeping operation that works in coordination with the United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic and other international and nongovernmental organizations. The goal is to overhaul the defense department and national security through planning and execution of consulting, training, and operational training activities for the Central African Armed Forces (FACA, in French).
“In general, our function is to support the development of FACA’s capabilities, to make it self-sustainable to fulfill legal requirements in the defense and security department,” said Maj. Biasi. The Brazilian officers arrived in the African country in January 2019, and will remain there until January 2020.
For administrative purposes, EB service members are linked to the Portuguese contingent. A bilateral Brazil-Portugal agreement approved by the European Parliament secured Brazil’s participation in the mission.
The conflict in CAR started in December 2012. The predominantly Muslim Seleka—a coalition of armed groups from the north of the country, whose name means alliance, in Sango, the region’s creole language—conducted an offensive operation toward the capital and assumed power. Violent incidents led to the emergence of Anti-Balak, Christian allegedly self-defense groups, which aggravated confrontations.
EUTM RCA activities are based on three pillars: strategic advice, to aid planning and execution of activities at the Armed Forces General Staff and Defense Ministry levels; educational, to train FACA’s officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs); and operational training to plan and execute training for segments of FACA units. Within this organization, Brazilian service members occupy strategic advisory positions with Capt. Albemar, and educational advisory positions with Maj. Biasi and Capt. Pedro Mendes.
“Capt. Albemar performs logistics advisory functions through the implementation of planning and participation in meetings with the Armed Forces General Staff, the Ministry of Defense, and logistics companies within the country to find solutions and promote the strengthening of the sector,” said Maj. Biasi to Diálogo. “I teach intelligence courses and Capt. Pedro Mendes is in charge of International Humanitarian Law and English,” he said.
The officers teach their respective areas in officer training classes, short-term internships, and refresher classes for officers and NCOs who are part of FACA’s Territorial Infantry battalions. At EUTM RCA’s base, the official language is English, used for internal documents and daily briefings. However, French is the language for courses, meetings, reports, and interactions with agencies and local institutions.
Preparations for the mission took place in two phases. The first was under the coordination of the Land Forces Command, an EB unit with headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Participants underwent psychological tests, among others, and received all the material for individual protection, uniforms, and medicine needed for the trip.
In December 2018, the second phase took place at the Portuguese Army’s 1st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group in Queluz city, Lisbon. The unit prepares the Portuguese contingent. “We receive instructions on the current situation in CAR and on the specifics of EUTM RCA. We do target practice with individual weapons (rifle and pistol) from the Portuguese Army, combat first aid and psychological first aid training, and attend French classes,” said Maj. Biasi.
According to Brazilian service members, the unprecedented nature of the experience was the main challenge to overcome. “We must keep the high standards of professionalism and dedication of Brazilian service members who were part of a UN [United Nations] peacekeeping operation,” said Maj. Biasi. “The fact that this activity has a different characteristic from what we are used to with the UN also makes it difficult.”
“There is no room for failure; After all, it’s important to be able to contribute to the development of the armed forces of a country that’s temporarily unstable,” said Capt. Albemar. “The best part is to see the initial results of this work on site, with the assurance that this effort contributed, directly or indirectly, to save lives.”
Capt. Pedro Mendes pointed out that the sacrifices and risks related to this type of activity are real, but the magnitude of the mission is motivating. “We can honor one of the principles of our profession, which is to avoid war. We help a country devastated by civil war and with serious social issues,” he said. “To be a peace instructor in one of the countries with the worst HDI [Human Development Index] in the world is, without a doubt, one of the most noble missions I was assigned in my life.”
The officer also highlighted the importance of Brazilian service members working with different armies worldwide. “This is a way of expressing Brazilian military national power, showing that we are on equal footing with other countries in the world,” said Capt. Pedro Mendes. “The professional exchange enables the training of EB’s human resources.”