Morale is reportedly "very high" among the hundreds of troops from Botswana and other regional countries fighting terrorists in Mozambique, after a series of successes in which enemy camps and equipment have been seized.
Botswana contributed 300 soldiers to the SADC forces with Commander in Chief, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, urging the troops to brace for a “deceptive enemy” likely to use “underhand tactics”.
The danger to the troops was demonstrated earlier this month, according to SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) spokesperson, Major Patrick Mfaladi of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
“On September 14, 2021, a SAMIM patrol was ambushed by insurgents but managed to fight their way out of the ambush without casualties or injuries to personnel, however one vehicle suffered minor damage,” he told Mmegi this week.
Precious few have escaped an attack by the Islamic state-linked terrorists, known as Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah. From October 2017 when they moved into northern Mozambique to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state there, the insurgents have engaged in a campaign of barely imaginable terror.
The violence prompted President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who was then SADC’s defence and security chief, to rally the region to Mozambique’s assistance earlier this year.
“This decision follows an elongated period of commitment of heinous atrocities where people’s internal organs are taken out by the militants, people beheaded, pregnant mothers’ stomachs ripped open and babies strewn everywhere,” Masisi said in a media briefing in April upon returning from Maputo. “The brutality is quite devastating.”
When SADC Heads of State gave the go-ahead to deploy in Mozambique in July, the insurgents were oozing with confidence, having pulled off deadly attacks on the town of Palma a few months before in March. In that attack, more than 200 terrorists attacked, killing scores, including citizens from South Africa, Britain and Zimbabwe.
According to Tim Lister, a CNN journalist who has covered multiple conflicts across the world, the Palma attack was “another stunning failure for Mozambique’s security forces, which proved unable to hold a town of 70,000 against a couple of hundred young militants”.
“The attack reverberated around the world because Palma was home to hundreds of foreign workers, most of them contractors for the Total Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project on the nearby Afungi Peninsula,” Lister wrote in the Combatting Terrorism Centre’s Sentinel publication. “There were also indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with dozens and maybe more killed in their homes and on Palma’s streets during the initial attack. “Residents reported that some of the dead had been beheaded, their bodies left in the streets.”
The region was stunned into action. Masisi would shuffle back and forth between Gaborone, Maputo and other regional capitals lobbying for direct military intervention. In Maputo, the initial reluctance to accept SADC’s states intervention by Filipe Nyusi’s government was eventually overcome and the region deployed to Cabo Delgado in July.
This week, SAMIM spokesperson, Mfaladi said the tide was slowly being turned in the war against the terrorists.
“When SAMIM arrived, there were already security forces in the operational area,” he explained. “However, with the expertise and assets brought by SAMIM to support the Government of Mozambique, the insurgents have been dislodged from most of the areas they previously controlled and their activities disrupted. “Several areas which were previously inaccessible to the community due to the terrorist threat are gradually becoming accessible to a variety of entities for the provision of services and resumption of economic activity. “Humanitarian assistance has also started to reach places where it is needed most.”
He added: “SAMIM forces are doing an exceptional and professional military duty in support of the Government of Mozambique as mandated by SADC. The forces are doing well and on course to achieving the mandate of the mission.”
On the ground, Mfaladi says the local populace has responded very well to the arrival and presence of SAMIM forces and is “very supportive and cooperative” in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
The cooperation of local citizens in Cabo Delgado is seen as critical to the success of any intervention. Although the terrorists are feared and hated in equal amounts, their ranks are believed to contain radicalised members of the local community who are key in gathering intelligence and strategy.
Professor Adriano Nuvunga, executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Maputo, explains that the SADC forces have been instrumental in changing the course of the conflict.
“SADC has indeed played a significant role in militarily stabilising Cabo Delgado,” he told Mmegi by phone yesterday. “Of course, the Rwandese Defence Forces have been given much prominence but there’s no doubt that SADC has significantly contributed towards stabilising the province. “SADC has more navy capacity which is instrumental for cutting sea communications and maritime security and this is something to be acknowledged.”
Nuvunga said the terrorists were now in “defensive mode,” launching sporadic attacks while under pressure from the SADC forces and other troops in the area. He said the state of the conflict was such that efforts towards long-lasting dialogue could begin.
“This is where we think it would be the right time to engage in robust resolution dialogue because if you learn from what happened in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, there is no military solution for this kind of military crisis,” Nuvunga said. “It needs a comprehensive strategy which includes resolution dialogue and other components, in addressing the root causes through inclusive governance.”
He expressed hope that the early military successes being scored by the Mozambican government and its allies would not weaken the need for dialogue.
“The people are positive but much will depend on how open the government is on embracing resolution dialogue. “Early military victories we hope will not undermine dialogue and make the government turn a blind eye when it comes to the need for a proper understanding of the strategies to address violent extremism. “People are positive about solving this but they are cautious that it needs a comprehensive strategy, which at the moment seems not to be in place.”
For SAMIM, the focus is on achieving the goals set out by the heads of state and regional leaders.
“SAMIM would like to assure the people of Mozambique and SADC of a collective commitment to achieving a peaceful, stable and secure Cabo Delgado Province as well as the entire country of Mozambique,” Mfaladi said.