An as yet unknown number of soldiers and other military personnel from an unknown number of Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries will be sent to Mozambique on an unknown date to “combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado”.
That’s the gist of a typically wordy SADC communique following the third regional bloc summit in virtually as many months on the problems Mozambique is experiencing at the hands insurgent Islamist group Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamamah (ASWJ) in Cabo Delgado. Violence at various levels of intensity has been ongoing in the East African country’s far northern province for four years, peaking in March when Palma fell to the insurgents who also seized the port of Mocimboa da Praia and saw international energy giant Total shut down construction operations on a major offshore gas field and allied extraction plant.
The lack of detail regarding the force, its strength and equipment can, at least partially, be ascribed to the Maputo announcement seen as endorsing and supporting a mandate for a regional standby force. “That is a big difference to deploying a SADC standby force,” Signal Risk director Ryan Cummings said.
All 16 SADC member states were represented at yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) summit in Maputo with a single communique reference to Cabo Delgado and its problems which some SADC members, including South Africa, point out could spill into countries neighbouring Mozambique.
It read: “Summit endorsed the recommendations of the Report of the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation and approved the Mandate for the SADC Standby Force Mission to Mozambique, to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado”.
The still-to-be assembled regional bloc standby force will reportedly have as its major component three light infantry battalions supported by a pair of Special Forces squadrons. Attack and other helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, a submarine and maritime patrol vessels are mooted for the SADC force said, but not confirmed, to be in the region of three thousand strong.
The decision ends months of deliberation and disagreement in the bloc about what is needed to stem an insurgency threatening to open up southern Africa’s first jihadist front.
Some SADC members, including South Africa, have pushed for military action, others are reportedly reticent.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi is traditionally resistant to foreign boots on the ground in his country.
“This is just the first step to a wider solution,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies
“This is the first time the SADC standby force has mobilised in a counter-terrorism operation which is not peacekeeping. It’s a complex situation,” she said, adding causes of the conflict have to addressed.