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Developments in Mozambique’s War Against the Islamic State
There have been several notable developments in recent weeks involving the conflict in northern Mozambique. Though a lumbering process, the Mozambique government has been consolidating support from allies and partners in its fight against Islamic State (IS) associated insurgents in Cabo Delgado province. On the other side of the conflict, Islamist guerilla forces have remained militarily active and have again resumed public-facing media activity in tandem with the Islamic State’s official propaganda apparatus.
The Mozambican Government and the International Community
• June 28th - The global coalition opposing the Islamic State met in Rome to discuss the campaign against IS and its various regional branches. Representatives “noted with grave concern that Daesh/ISIS affiliates and networks in sub-Saharan Africa threaten security and stability, namely in the Sahel Region and in East Africa/Mozambique” and offered support to any nation involved in countering IS insurgents. “We must step up the action undertaken by the coalition, not by shifting our focus but by increasing the areas in which we can operate … [in] the Sahel, Mozambique and the Horn of Africa," said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
• June 29th - The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) pledged support for calls made by the Norwegian Maritime Unions (NMU) to cease crew changes in northern Mozambique due to the threats posed to seafarers by militant actors in the region. The ITF and NMU voiced public concern over what they assess to be an elevated risk of kidnapping and attack by Islamic State-linked forces during the crew change process.
• July 9th - The Government of Rwanda commenced the joint deployment of 1,000 armed personnel from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to Cabo Delgado to help fight IS-linked insurgents. The statement issued seemingly indicated their intention to take a direct role in the conflict, claiming their forces will “support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilization and security-sector reform (SSR).”
• July 12th - The Council of the European Union (EU) formally announced their decision to set up an EU military training mission in Mozambique to help address the crisis in Cabo Delgado. The EU is launching the campaign in response to the Mozambican government’s formal request for further European engagement. The mission’s mandate is initially set for two years and is geared toward capacity-building programs with select units of the Mozambican armed forces. EU personnel will provide military training to improve operational preparation and will offer specialized training on counterterrorism.
• July 14th - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi to reaffirm “the strength and importance of US-Mozambique relations” in their “joint commitment to countering ISIS” as well as underscoring continued American support for Maputo’s efforts to address Covid-19-related challenges.
• July 15th - Germany will provide 4.2 million euros in support of a project managed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to “strengthen stability and security in the cross-border area” of Mozambique with Tanzania. The initiative is purposed to improve security in the borderlands ranging Cabo Delgado’s northern reaches along the Rovuma River. The report notes “that border division is one of the suspected routes for terrorists to enter northern Mozambique, but it is also the destination for thousands of displaced people fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado to Tanzania – and being returned to Mozambican soil.”
• July 16th - The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a joint communiqué about the dire humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique. They estimate that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Cabo Delgado Province has now surpassed 732,000, with children accounting for 46% of this total.
• July 19th - South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel have arrived in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. The Daily Maverick reported: “Officials from the South African government and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and local security analysts confirmed that leading elements of the SADC standby force – including its South African commander – were already in Mozambique.” Adding, “Military sources said small contingents of special forces from the standby force, including South Africans, had been flown into Pemba, the provincial capital of Cabo Delgado, on Monday.”
Cabo Delgado Insurgency and the Islamic State in Mozambique
• June 21st to June 29th - Francisco Assane, who is described as “acting commander of the Afungi theater,” told the media that government forces killed approximately 150 jihadists during fighting near Palma. He also claimed that 39 insurgents were captured in Monjane on 27 June. Another commander said that the military rescued 100 civilian captives from insurgents in southeast Palma during clashes in the area.
• July 9th - The Islamic State published an editorial in their weekly newsletter al-Naba commenting upon the meeting of “ministers of the Crusader alliance … representing 83 states in Crusader Rome.” This, of course, refers to the previously mentioned June 29th coalition summit in Italy. Researcher Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi notes how the Islamic State has “recently placed much propaganda emphasis on its activities and expansion in Africa in general” and, consistent with the identified trend, the Islamic State noted that “the most prominent and heaviest file on the table of the Crusader alliance in this meeting is the field of Africa and the Sahel.” It is also worth recalling the contents of the Islamic State’s editorial in April, which emphasized its successes in Africa and mentioned Mozambique multiple times throughout. They boasted of publishing “reports and photos of the widespread attacks and great victories that the mujahideen are realising by the grace of God Almighty in the regions of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mali, Congo, Mozambique and other places.” IS subsequently celebrated how “the continual attacks in West and Central Africa have cooled [/delighted] the chests of the monotheists and have enraged and terrified the hearts of the apostates and Crusaders, and the black continent has entered into the circle of global attention and the news of Mozambique - for example - has begun to be covered on the news of Crusader America!”
• July 13th - As mentioned in the Islamic State’s April editorial, the publication of official attack reports, photos, and videos is important to their media strategy and something they place a premium on. This week, the organization published Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) operation claims in Mozambique for the first time in months and also released new photos, including of their spoils.
Note: Insurgent forces have remained active in conducting smaller-scale operations in northern Mozambique, and the Cabo Ligado conflict observatory does a great job of covering related incidents in the region. You can find their work on recent events and developments here: June 28th to June 4th and July 5th to July 11th. Also, regarding the recent Islamic State attack claims, ExTrac (@Ex_Trac on Twitter) provided detailed analysis in a >thread<.