According to unconfirmed reports, suspected Islamist militants have once again attacked and occupied Mocímboa da Praia in the northern Cabo Delgado province. Reports suggest that the port town was first attacked overnight on August 5/6, with intense fighting continuing until August 11.
Security forces are said to have been given air support by the South Africa-based private security company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), which has been active in the region since May.
DAG is currently based in the port city of Pemba, more than 300 km to the south. Although unconfirmed, both militants and security forces are believed to have suffered multiple casualties. Mocímboa da Praia has been targeted numerous times in 2020, including on March 23 when it was temporarily occupied. recently, the town was attacked and occupied overnight on June 27, the same day eight employees of Fenix Constructions Service, a subcontractor of Total, were killed when their vehicle was ambushed by gunmen near Palma, some 80 km north of Mocímboa da Praia. Both attacks on Mocímboa da Praia were claimed by the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) militant group. ISCAP has claimed or been blamed for the most recent attacks in Cabo Delgado.
However, it is only one of several groups known to be active in the region, with the group commonly known as Ansar al-Sunna or Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo (also referred to by locals as Al-Shabaab) operating there since 2017. The groups are not thought to have direct links with their better-known namesakes, but rather identify with them ideologically. Indeed, most analysts agree that socio-economic issues, underdevelopment, and perceived marginalisation are major drivers of the Islamic insurgency in the region, along with militants’ links to organised crime. The government has struggled to contain the escalating insurgency, which has threatened major liquified natural gas projects in the province, deploying additional security forces and engaging private security companies to try and contain the growing violence.
On May 14, Interior Minister Amade Miquidade announced that 50 militants were killed in a security operation launched in the Meluco, Mocímboa da Praia, Mueda, Muidimbe, Nangade, and Quissanga districts. However, security forces have also suffered major reversals, impacting morale and operational capacity. The insurgency has been considered at a multilateral level with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) discussing it at a special summit in Harare on May 19.
A communiqué released after the conclusion of the Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit plus Mozambique “urged Sadc member states to support the Government of Mozambique in fighting the terrorists and armed groups in some districts of Cabo Delgado”. However, there have been no concrete commitments by either the bloc or any individual member to provide military support.
Senior figures in South Africa have made comments suggesting that the possibility was at least under discussion. South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, briefed Parliament in May, saying that government was in discussion with Mozambique about how it could help fight the insurgency, prompting the Islamic State to issue threats to “open a fighting front inside [South Africa’s] borders”. The chairperson of the country’s National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) has since been quoted as saying, “We can’t interfere in a country’s sovereign matters, but we make sure we are keeping our forces ready.”
In a development that may be related to the situation in Cabo Delgado, Tanzania’s military has been conducting military exercises along that country’s shared border with the troubled province since August 10. Tanzania first announced that it would be deploying soldiers to the border in May, in response to the insecurity. Islamist militants have significantly stepped up their activities in Cabo Delgado in 2020 and have become increasingly emboldened with its usual modus operandi evolving from targeting small villages and rural dwellers to launching relatively sophisticated attacks on district capitals, like Mocímboa da Praia and Quissanga.
This has seen them driving security forces from towns they were garrisoned in, allowing militants to achieve psychological victories and capture weaponry. The security situation in Cabo Delgado is not expected to improve significantly over the short to medium term as there is no purely military solution to the insurgency. Most analysts agree that a coordinated, regional response to the insurgency is required as porous borders and organised crime activities are some of the key drivers of the violence. Mozambique is said to be reluctant to agree to a regional force being deployed, partly due to its poor relationship with Tanzania and Botswana, which will soon take over from Zimbabwe as chair of the Sadc Troika. Media reports allege that President Filipe Nyusi had proposed a bilateral arrangement to his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa, which was rejected as the latter preferred a coordinated response. A coordinated response appears unlikely in the immediate future. Louw Nel, Political Analyst