As SADC Mission in Mozambique winds down, terrorism resurges

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As the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique winds down its activities in the Cabo Delgado region, terrorists have begun to surge again in communities along the coast.

Since deploying in 2021, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) has helped reduce the presence of Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in the Cabo Delgado province from several thousand to a few hundred. However, the upcoming end of SAMIM on 15 July has some observers concerned about a revival of terrorism in the region.

In recent months, the chronically underfunded 16-nation SAMIM contingent has begun to shrink. Botswana and Lesotho withdrew their forces in April. Angola and Namibia are leaving. Terrorists with the group known as Islamic State Mozambique are seizing the opportunity to reestablish footholds in the northern part of the country.

Militant groups have attacked coastal communities as well as residents of the Quirimbas islands just off the coast. Terrorists have ambushed military patrols, brutally executed civilians and looted communities.

In mid-May, insurgents looted the Cabo Delgado community of Macomia at dawn. Local media reported that more than 20 soldiers may have been killed in the attack.

“The risk is that the extremists will once again take a stronger foothold there since the issues that led to the conflict in the first place remain unresolved,” analyst Thomas Mandrup of the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, wrote recently for The Conversation.

The increase in terrorist activities has inspired South Africa and Rwanda to change their deployment strategies. South Africa, which provided nearly 1 500 of SAMIM’s 2 200 troops, will keep some of its forces on the ground through the end of the year, mainly to oversee the SANDF’s departure. After that, 200 troops will remain behind until March 2025 to guard against illegal maritime activities.

South Africa has provided $45 million a year to SAMIM, which has continually operated short of full funding. South Africa’s own budget problems have kept its helicopters grounded, leaving SAMIM troops without air support.

Rwanda deployed 1 000 troops separately from SAMIM in 2021. Mozambique announced in May that Rwanda will add another 2 500 troops to fight the insurgency.

SAMIM and Rwandan forces have had trouble coordinating their efforts due to language barriers and equipment differences.

Despite those issues, security forces have enabled more than 570 000 people who had been driven from their homes by terrorism to return in 2023. Some of those same people have begun to flee their homes again as the new waves of terrorist activity spread.

For that reason, Webster Zambara, senior project leader for South Africa-based Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, recommends that SAMIM forces work with Mozambique to ensure a lengthier presence in the country to address an issue that affects the entire region.

“The bigger picture is that terrorism issues tend to be very long if we are to look at al-Shabaab in East Africa and also Boko Haram in West Africa,” Zambara told Voice of America. “So, we may actually need to see SADC revisiting its position on this.”

Terrorists pushed south

Before the attack on Macomia, terrorists launched several attacks, including a foray into the Nampula Province in April. “Insurgents crossed the Lurio river by boat into Nampula and attacked the villages of Nasua and Manica in Erati district on April 25,” the conflict observation website Cabo Ligado reported. “IS claimed to have burned homes, churches and schools and to have killed one civilian in Nasua.

“The next day, insurgents clashed with security forces around the village of Mithoca, according to IS. Police in Nampula confirmed that insurgents had attacked Erati district and that schools and homes had suffered extensive damage.”

From 26 April to 3 May, Mozambican and Rwandan troops conducted joint operations against terrorists in the dense forests of the Nampula district and on small islands along the Lurio River, the country’s second-largest river.

“They [terrorists] have been hiding in these forests since they were dislodged by RDF and Mozambique forces from Catupa forest [in Cabo Delgado province’s Mocamia District] last year,” Brigadier General Ronald Rwivanga, Rwanda Defense Force spokesperson, told Rwandan newspaper The New Times. “They keep moving southwards as they get dislodged.”

The April attacks were ISM’s third violent incursion into Nampula. The group first crossed into the province in June 2022, followed by another foray in September 2022. ISM insurgents attempted a raid on Nampula in February 2024 but were prevented by flooding of the Lurio.

As they did in their previous incursions, the militants targeted rural communities in northern Nampula Province in April 2024 after meeting little resistance from state forces on their way south through Cabo Delgado.

“The insurgents operate in small groups in these forest areas,” Rwivanga said. “They also hide in small islands along the Lurio river. The registered terrorists’ casualties were several dozens. Large stocks of arms were left behind, but some casualties were carried by the fleeing insurgents across the river in Nampula Province.”

In December 2023, FADM Army Commander Major General Tiago Alberto Nampele said his forces, along with the RDF and SAMIM, countered ISM movements and prevented the terrorists from accessing food.

The three forces designed a joint plan to pursue the retreating terrorists.

“They do not concentrate themselves in bases,” Nampele told The New Times, adding that the terrorists don’t have them.

“It’s just small camps, very, very small, whereby when they notice our forces, the first thing they do is spread themselves in very small groups of two or three. They are flexible, and they can move from one place to another.”

Rwanda has about 2 500 Soldiers and police personnel in the Ancuabe, Mocímboa da Praia and Palma districts of Cabo Delgado. Brigadier General Patrick Karuretwa, who leads RDF international military cooperation, said Rwanda has pledged to send more troops as SAMIM draws down its forces by the end of the year.

SAMIM’s withdrawal “obliges us to take certain measures,” Karuretwa said, according to the Mozambique Information Agency. “We shall train Mozambican Soldiers to occupy the places where SAMIM used to be stationed.

“We are also increasing the number of our own forces, and making them more mobile, so that they can cover larger areas.”

Written by Africa Defense Forum and republished with permission. The original articles can be found here and here.