The recent bloodthirsty assault by Islamic State groups (IS) in northern Mozambique by jihadist militants has shocked the world.
Hundreds of armed fighters were able to conquer a town near Africa’s largest gas project. They slaughtered dozens of people, Locals, expatriates and decapitated bodies are scattered throughout the street.
So how could this happen? Why is the Mozambique government unable to curb this rebellion and what is needed to defeat it?
Who are the armed groups?
They call themselves the Arabic al-Shabaab, which means “young man” or “young man.” This can be misleading as they are not in the same group as the rebels linked to Somali al-Qaeda. Instead, the group pledged allegiance to its Iraqi and Syrian-based rival IS Group in 2019. They adopted the title of Islamic State Central African Republic (ISCAP), but this is also misleading because Mozambique is not part of Central Africa.
In a recurring pattern elsewhere in the world, such as Mali, Iraq and Nigeria, the rebellion arose from the dissatisfaction of locals who felt disrespected and discriminated against by their governments.
The province of Cabo del Gado in Mozambique, more than 1,600 km (990 miles) from the capital Maputo, contains Africa’s largest and most abundant liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. It is operated by the French company Total and is estimated to be worth US $ 60 billion (£ 44 billion) in investments from countries including the United Kingdom.
Locals complained that the rebellion began in 2017 and was later “internationalized” with the support of the IS, as they rarely saw this wealth and investment passed on to the community.
In chunky clothing and no clear uniform, the jihadists who conquered the town of Parma last weekend were nevertheless armed with assault rifles and rocket propellant grenades. From a video later posted online by IS, one of their unified features appears to be the red bandana that many wore around their foreheads to show a serious assault.
They were also well motivated and led to the launch of a successful multifaceted attack that quickly overcame the ineffective security provided by the Government of Mozambique.
GlobalStrat geopolitical risk analyst and African jihadist expert Olivier Guitar said, “Despite it being a local jihadist rebellion, it has established a connection with East African Muslim militias. The radical spiritual leaders there have helped, even the religious and military training of young people in northern Mozambique. “
Therefore, this rebellion is essentially a local rebellion that opportunistically hides in the IS flag and has gained worldwide attention due to its graphic violence and proximity to such important commercial projects.
What do you need to defeat them?
Much more effort than ever has been done is the answer.
Recognizing the serious problems, the Mozambique government hired more than 200 military “advisors” from Russia’s terrifying private military contractor, the Wagner Group, in September 2020.
Most of these former Russian SEAL soldiers have been operating in Syria, Libya and elsewhere with approval from the Kremlin. They brought in drones and data analysis, but as Olivier Guitta points out, they didn’t get the results they expected.
“Russian private military contractors have entered into a strategic withdrawal after a series of ambush and nearly 12 deaths were reported in several battles in the jungle of Cabo del Gado.”
The most pressing issue is the weakness of Mozambique’s own security forces and perhaps the misguided complacency of its political leaders.
Brigadier General Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states that IS militants have proven capabilities in urban combat, which is a challenge for Mozambique and its partners.
“Success in urban warfare requires government forces to undergo a high level of leadership and training in urban tactics. These factors may explain the apparent weaknesses of the Mozambique army. Western It seems that they lack the support of military advisors and the ability to use air force and precision. Weapons and armored vehicles. All of these are essential for the expulsion of IS troops from towns and cities in Iraq and Syria. “
Recently, the Pentagon has dispatched a small detachment of Green Bellet Special Forces trainers to strengthen the efforts of Mozambique’s army, and Portugal, a former colonial nation, has also promised a small number of military trainers. France is reportedly monitoring the situation from nearby Mayotte Island, and South Africa has a keen interest in its neighbors. However, major military involvement by Western nations carries its own risks.
“As we have seen elsewhere in northwestern Africa, large foreign military presence can exacerbate and destabilize conflicts politically,” said Benjamin Petrini, a researcher at IISS. “.
But he said, “The role of South Africa [whose private military contractors rescued many of the trapped workers from the recent raid] It may also be considered as a regional peace enforcer. “
IS tactics are usually brutal and scary. Al-Qaeda is still murderous in its actions, but often makes some efforts to build local support, but these militants make bloodthirsty assaults on the local community and indiscriminately. He has slaughtered civilians and has troubled his head. In one raid this year, even an 11-year-old boy was forced to be killed in front of his mother.
In the short term, this establishes a terrifying reputation and is probably accompanied by an invincible exaggerated cloak. However, in the long run, few rebellions can proceed without local support. Iraqi al-Qaeda made the mistake of terrorizing the local Sunni Muslim population in Ambar in 2007-such as cutting a man’s finger for a simple crime of smoking-then US-led. The coalition was able to persuade the local tribes to stand up against al-Qaeda in what became known as the “awakening.”
Similar things may happen in Mozambique. The rebellion is by no means a military victory, but an old cliché of “winning the heart and mind.” Therefore, to defeat this rebellion, yes, initially requires a well-equipped and coordinated campaign by Mozambique’s own army, with foreign logistics support. But it takes much more time for it to succeed in the long run.
Good governance and investment in communities such as schools, roads and jobs is required. Enough to ease the feelings of those abandoned by the government, large foreign multinationals are benefiting from their precious natural resources.
In Afghanistan, we saw how the tactical military victory over the Taliban by NATO and Afghan government forces was later revoked by a government failure. The areas “liberated” from Taliban control later returned to their control as the military left and corrupt police and government officials resumed their vicious activities at the expense of locals.
The same will happen in Mozambique if future military efforts are not supported by significant civil improvements.
Mozambique jihadists seem to be aiming to create their own self-declared “caliphate” in Cabodelgado, as the IS did in Mosul in 2014.
It is highly unlikely that they will succeed in gaining control of a $ 60 billion gas project.
I don’t know if it can be managed and exported in the traditional way, but it can still provide enormous economic power, fund future businesses and possibly return funds to IS Central in Iraq and Syria.
It took five years and horrific casualties for the coalition of 83 countries to finally defeat the end of Syria’s IS “caliphate”. When that was over, world leaders said IS should never be allowed to build such a caliphate.
If the Mozambique rebellion is not defeated, that promise will be tested.