Traditional terrorism could mean trouble for security forces in Mozambique – Opperman

Independent terrorism expert Jasmine Opperman

Globalisation, more traditional forms of terrorism and a lack of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) could be major vulnerabilities to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) and Rwandan troops deployed in the insurgent-ridden Cabo Delgado province.

This is according to independent terrorism expert, Jasmine Opperman, who will be addressing the defenceWeb’s Countering the Insurgency in Mozambique virtual event on 16 November. Opperman will be participating in a panel discussion focused on the role that external forces are playing and what this means for the security of Mozambique and the southern African region as a whole.

The now infamous region of northern Mozambique has been subjected to a violent Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and displaced over 850 000 people. To counter the insurgency by the group known as Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ), soldiers from five Southern African Development Community member countries comprise the SAMIM force that is being extended past its initial three-month deployment.

Rwanda has also deployed troops to northern Mozambique, with around 2 000 serving there. Since the deployment of SAMIM and Rwandan forces in July, offensives by the forces have been successful. Notably a SAMIM offensive on an ASWJ base south of Chitama in late September killed insurgent leader Sheikh Dr Njile North. ASWJ are now coming up against multiple forces that are more capable and better equipped than the Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM). However, that is not to say SAMIM and Rwandan forces are not vulnerable.

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Opperman recently told defenceWeb that the SAMIM forces could be vulnerable if ASWJ decides to launch offensives via means of traditional terrorism. The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ambush attacks and submersing into the civilian population are well-known tactics of traditional Islamist terrorism.

Opperman mentioned a report of IED materials being found by SAMIM forces. While it is unverified as to what materials were found, it can be an indicator that there is some form of communication/training happening between the Islamist State (IS) and ASWJ. It also indicates that ASWJ are open to and may be in the process of evolving into a more traditional form of terrorism. “The probability, we cannot ignore any longer because the vegetation forces them [SAMIM] to use the roads that are available,” said Opperman in reference to IED attacks. According to sources in Cabo Delgado, Rwanda troops were surprised by the ASWJ’s level of organisation and communication between cells.

There is another reason SAMIM forces are vulnerable and that is because of the lack of ISR operations from both Rwanda and SAMIM. “Now we are seeing them [Rwandan forces] starting to make use of drones. That tells me one thing, their lack of trust in the ability to gain quick, steadfast, sustainable security,” said Opperman. The use of drones for short range ISR indicates that Rwanda is not sure if the area is secure. “That means, Rwanda cannot tell me that the area is safe for the return of the population,” added Opperman.

Trust is another issue that leaves SAMIM, FADM and Rwandan forces vulnerable. Sources on the ground say so far there has not been close cooperation between Rwandan troops and FADM during offensives. Rwandans were seen however during the Mozambique security forces operation that killed the leader of the Renamo Military Junta, Mariano Nhongo. A joint intelligence centre is not likely, but it would create trust and effective coordination amongst military forces in Cabo Delgado.

Indications point out Cabo Delgado will not be secure come January 2022, as SADC has already announced an extension of the deployment. “Will [SAMIM] be in a position by January 2022 to pull out forces and say the area is cleared? No way,” said Opperman, adding that hard power won’t necessarily stop an insurgency that is driven by a deep frustration rooted in the history of Cabo Delgado. Political exclusion and economic desperation are some of the drivers behind ASWJ and those issues are yet to be addressed by Mozambican president, Filipe Nyusi.

“We need to understand their [SAMIM and Rwandan forces] presence and that all odds are against them,” said Opperman.

The discovery of IED materials in Cabo Delgado is a strong indicator that the insurgency is evolving and terrorism experts like Opperman do not see ASWJ going away anytime soon. Political will in Mozambique needs to adequately address the country’s forgotten sons that join Islamist extremist groups along the East African coast.

defenceWeb will on 16 November examine regional and international efforts to counter the violence in Mozambique, through a new virtual conference, with the theme ‘Developing a multi-theatre approach to restoring peace in Cabo Delgado’. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to hear directly from the key stakeholders involved in resolving the crisis – register today!

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