Reports that a privately operated helicopter was destroyed in Mozambique during contact with Islamist insurgents last week have once again shone the spotlight on private military activity in the country aimed at combating the ongoing insurgency there.
Reports from Mozambique indicate that a Gazelle operated by South African private military contractors was either shot down or forced to land due to mechanical failure on 10 April. The aircraft, registration ZU-ROJ, was earlier seen in a video flying with a second Gazelle and a Bell Long Ranger over Mozambique. One of the Gazelles was fitted with what appeared to be a door-mounted machinegun or cannon.
ZU-ROJ was registered to South African company Aviator at Work in December 2019 and is believed to be flown by Dyck Advisory Group. According to an unverified statement apparently from Dyck Advisory Group, ZU-ROJ and another aircraft were tasked to fly Mozambican police members to a meeting at a local village on an island 30 minutes flight time from Pemba on 10 April.
On the return flight the aircraft’s controls apparently got progressively stiffer, resulting in a precautionary landing. The crew returned to Pemba aboard the other helicopter. When they returned with a mechanic, they found the aircraft on fire and surrounded by people.
However, other reports suggest that the Gazelle was hit by small arms fire, with a round passing through the gearbox. The aircraft was apparently forced to land and destroyed by the crew to stop it falling into enemy hands. Neither claims can be confirmed.
Nevertheless, the presence of the Gazelles indicates private military contractors are once again operating in Mozambique. According to the Daily Maverick, privately owned helicopters strafed an Ahlu Sunnah wa Jamaa (ASWJ) jihadist base in Mozambique’s Muede area on 8 April and then attacked other bases in Mbau in the Awassi district and in Muidumbe the following day.
It has been reported that the helicopters in Mozambique are operated by Dyck Advisory Group, owned by former Colonel Lionel Dyck. The company describes itself as having years of experience in the fields of demining, explosive hazard management, specialised security, canine services and counter poaching. The company can either provide advisory services or “oversee the solutions launch”.
It appears Dyck Advisory Group is one of several private military contractors that has attempted working with the Mozambican government to combat the growing Islamist insurgency in the country.
Russia’s Wagner Group was operating in Mozambique since the end of August 2019, with local media reporting that at least 160 Russian military personnel arrived in Cabo Delgado to help neutralise attacks in the region. In September, an Antonov An-124 transport aircraft landed in Nacala and unloaded at least one Mi-17 helicopter.
The Wagner Group apparently beat out a US private security company, according to ISS Africa, and in August 2019, two unmarked Gazelle helicopters painted in military camouflage were spotted in Pemba, capital of the Cabo Delgado province. It is believed they were supplied from South Africa on a three-month trial by Durban-based Umbra Aviation. According to Air Forces Monthly magazine, the Gazelles were supplied by Umbra on a three-month trial to Frontier Services Group (FSG) run by Erik Prince. After the Wagner Group moved into Mozambique, Prince withdrew the helicopters in mid-September 2019, Air Forces Monthly reports.
According to security sources quoted by the Daily Maverick, Wagner pulled out of Mozambique in March after suffering a number of casualties – at least a dozen Russian personnel appear to have been killed by Mozambican insurgents, mostly in ambushes.
Unconfirmed sources suggest that Dyck Advisory Group is now trying its hand at slowing the insurgency, and apparently this month deployed two Gazelles, one UH-1 Huey and one Long Ranger helicopter to Mozambique along with a Diamond DA 42 and a Cessna Caravan.
Since 2017 there have been dozens of attacks in Mozambique, mainly focussed on the Cabo Delgado region, with hundreds killed – more than 900, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project. According to the Institute for Security Studies, the upsurge in brutal violence in northern Mozambique, including the beheadings of women and children, has sounded alarms that a violent jihadist movement is evolving.
The ASWJ militants appear to be loyal to Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP). They have mounted a raft of attacks in recent weeks. At the end of March they launched two attacks, on the town of Quissanga where they destroyed the local police station, and the town of Mocimboa da Praia just south of multi-billion dollar gas projects. Further attacks have followed across Cabo Delgado, with villages occupied and military outposts, businesses and police stations attacked. On 10 April, insurgents attacked Quirimba Island off the coast off Quissanga, with five people killed.
Mozambique expert Joseph Hanlon, Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics, told ISS Africa that the insurgents seemingly have embarked on a new strategy in recent weeks – to win over the local population while simultaneously clearing out the remote areas surrounding the towns and villages through their attacks.
For decades the local inhabitants have had very little government support. The recent failed resettlement of people to make way for the exploitation of mineral resources including natural gas and rubies, has exacerbated discontent with the state. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods in farming and fishing. As a result some view the state, not the insurgents, as the enemy. Corruption is also rife and people resent the government for not redistributing what they see as their share of the region’s mineral and resource wealth, Hanlon told ISS Today.
There were rumours that private military company STTEP was involved in Mozambique but these have been emphatically denied by Chairman Eeben Barlow. “The current conflict in Cabo Delgado province is extremely serious and has, to date, already cost many lives. It has, furthermore, resulted in the government of Mozambique coming under massive domestic and regional pressure to end the conflict. It is also highly likely that this conflict will result in a regional spill-over as the Islamist forces gain momentum and become incentivised by tactical successes,” Barlow said.
“It remains the sovereign right and prerogative of the Mozambique government to appoint or use whoever they deem capable of assisting and supporting them in this conflict. However, the government there has not approached STTEP for advice, assistance or support of any nature. It is possible that independent contractors who have worked with STTEP in the past may be in Mozambique,” he said.