The growing Islamic insurgency in northern Mozambique can only be stopped with a coordinated military effort and development that involves African and Western countries or risks further getting out of control, experts have warned.
They argue that the raid on the port city of Palma last month by the local Islamic State-linked al-Shabaab group, which left dozens dead and thousands displaced, marks a watershed moment in the four-year escalating conflict.
This is the first time foreign nationals have been targeted, said Bulama Bukarti, a sub-Saharan terrorist analyst with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, about the attack on the Amarula Hotel used by contractors working on large multinational gas projects nearby. .
Bucharest also stressed the relative sophistication of the attack, with tactics targeting banks and money and food depots derived from other Islamic groups in Africa.
This is surpassing other uprisings in Africa; it took Boko Haram in Nigeria six years to get to where the group has reached three, Bucharest added. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate and needs something like a regional intervention by African nations with Western logistical support.
The attack on Palma began on March 24 by about 100 fighters, who took control of the city, which has a population of approximately 75,000. Reports circulated that the decapitated bodies were seen on the road as a convoy of aliens trying to escape was repeatedly ambushed, with only seven of the 17 cars that took him to safety. A Briton was among the dead.
The al-Shabaab insurgents appeared in Cabo Delgado province in 2017, a historically neglected Muslim area in a Christian-majority country. Last year, about 1,600 were killed in the region, tripled the number in 2019, and in the worst incident 50 villagers were beheaded on a football field.
A thousand miles from the capital, Maputo, the importance of the regions increased with the discovery of natural gas in 2010. But as companies such as Frances Total, which closed its operations in the area on Friday, and ExxonMobil, USA, have begun to try to exploit resources, some benefits are shared.
Although the al-Shabaab group is linked to Isis, which last week claimed credit for the deaths of 55 people, including those from the Crusaders, ties are free. Experts believe the group shares tactics through Telegram and WhatsApp with al-Shabaab in Somalia and groups in West Africa, but its weapons and resources are taken from the attacks and the fighters are local.
Western military analysts conclude that the threat posed is becoming strategic. Last month, shortly before the Palma attack, senior British soldiers privately warned of the crisis in Mozambique, which along with conflicts in Yemen and Somalia is creating instability in the Indian Ocean off the west coast.
A recent reorganization of the UK Armed Forces highlighted the creation of the Rangers, a second-level special forces battalion designed to conduct training and combat operations to combat an insurgency and modeled on the Green Berets of the US. The idea is to offer an alternative to countries such as Mozambique, which had unsuccessfully turned to Russians and other mercenaries to contain the al-Shabaab threat.
In August 2019, President Filipe Nyusi signed economic and security agreements with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Moscow. A month later 200 soldiers arrived from the Russians Wagner Group in the north of the country, but it quickly emerged that they were out of their depths, alarming Western investors in the gas fields.
They were replaced by the South African Advisory Group Dyck, an unauthorized anti-hunting specialist operating a section of small attack helicopters. Dyck said he had saved a couple of hundred as the insurgents hit Palma, but it had been so criticized by Amnesty International for involvement in indiscriminate shootings against civilians, as well as military targets during previous al-Shabaab attacks.
So far, the government in Maputo, historically unattached, has been reluctant to engage Western aid and has even weakened the impact of the conflict. Nyusi said Wednesday that the government would respond forcefully, but also described the attack on Palma as not the largest the country had ever seen.
However, last month about a dozen U.S. Green Berets arrived in Mozambique to help train the country’s military in the fight against the Isis subsidiary. After the raid in Palma, Portugal, the former colonial power, said it would send 60 soldiers on a similar mission. Diplomatic sources said the UK was considering making a similar offer.
The situation in Mozambique is complex. Amnesty also accuses Mozambican security forces of engaging in violent retaliation, including brief executions, when they have regained control following previous attacks, making the future security partnership potentially full.
Alex Vines, who runs the Africa program at Chatham House, said it appears the Mozambican government has acknowledged it cannot handle the crisis through private security contractors, although it does not yet acknowledge the need for full intervention.
But the concern is that any support in the developing west may struggle to keep pace with the deteriorating security situation.
At the moment, the direction that things are going is really bad, said Brian Castner, a crisis specialist at Amnesty. The rainy season which prevented the attacks has just ended and we are now in what is called the fighting season, which lasts until autumn.
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