Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard the South African military, in all probability in the form of the Joint Operations Division, “prompted a conversation” with Mozambique as regards the “modus operandi and execution” of the regional anti-piracy tasking Operation Copper.
In what a committee member termed “a masterstroke of under-statement” given the volatile situation in northern Mozambique where beheadings, widespread intimidation and the capture of villages, towns and ports are common, the briefing points to a reconsideration of operations in the existing mandate of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) anti-piracy initiative.
When established as the SADC maritime security strategy (MSS) just on 10 years ago, Operation Copper was to address anti-piracy and “maritime criminality operations” in the Mozambique Channel. According to the briefing “the initial concept of operations, titled ‘counter piracy’ had the strategic intent to conduct permanent maritime security operations in Mozambican waters”.
Early in 2015 the tasking was reviewed because “no piracy incidents had been reported in the area of operation” proposing periodic air and maritime patrols “not exceeding 90 days a year”.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is authorised by its Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa to continue with Operation Copper until 31 March next year. The mandate remains countering the threat of piracy and “other illegal maritime crime”.
Total estimated cost for the year’s deployment is R38,9 million (R20 million for goods and services and R18 million for salaries).
This mandate has seen the deployment of SA Navy assets ranging from its replenishment platform, SAS Drakensberg (A301), to the hydrographic vessel SAS Protea (A324), Valour Class frigates and modified and refurbished strikecraft now called offshore patrol vessels (OPVs). SA Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ and C-47TP aircraft have been periodically deployed as eyes in the sky to boost shipboard intelligence gathering.
While no mention is made in the briefing of any outcome from the South Africa/Mozambique “conversation”, the Op Copper mandate could change depending on what steps the regional bloc decides to take, if any, to assist Mozambique in stemming Islamist violence in its Cabo Delgado province.
While no date has yet been set for the delayed SADC Trioka plus Mozambique summit, this meeting is expected to decide whether or not to offer military assistance to Mozambique.
Unconfirmed reports have it the SADC plans send a force to Mozambique. It will reportedly comprise three light infantry battalions each 620 strong and two 70-strong Special Forces squadrons as the vanguard of a regional bloc force to “combat and neutralise” insurgents in northern Mozambique. An unnamed number of attack and other helicopters as well as patrol ships, a submarine and a maritime aircraft to patrol the Cabo Delgado coast will also be part of the force. The maritime component of the deployment is reportedly to intercept supplies for the insurgents and combat criminal trafficking, believed to be a source of financing for the insurgency.