US military joins the fight against Isis in Mozambique

A large group of insurgents — presumed to be from the Isis-affiliated Al Sunnah wa Jama’a (ASWJ) group, attacked the town of Mocimboa da Praia in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado in March 2020. (Photo: Supplied)

Army Green Berets are already training Mozambique marines — report.

The US military has reportedly joined the growing fight against jihadist insurgents in northern Mozambique.

A dozen US Army Green Beret special forces began training Mozambican marines this week in a two-month programme, the New York Times reported. 

The move indicates a greater commitment by the new Biden administration to the fight against the Islamic State-linked insurgency than that of the previous Trump administration. 

Last week Washington formally designated the insurgency — which it named Isis-Mozambique — as a global terrorist organisation and imposed sanctions on it and its leader, whom it named as Abu Yasir Hassan.

The insurgents who operate in Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado province sometimes call themselves Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, (ASWJ). Locals also call them Al-Shabaab — though they are not known to have any formal link to the group of that name in Somalia, which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State. 

The threat posed by the insurgents to the huge natural gas reserves in northern Mozambique has probably helped motivate the growing US involvement in the conflict. The US oil and gas corporation Exxon-Mobil has major concessions in the Rovuma offshore gas fields, along with France’s Total. 

The processing facilities for the gas are in the Afungi peninsula, just north of Mocimboa da Praia, a port town which the insurgents have occupied since August 2020 and from which they launch attacks further afield, posing danger to road and sea routes to the north.

Last week John Godfrey, US Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis told journalists that apart from the sanctions measures, the US was also bolstering the ability of the Mozambican government to finance counter-terrorism.

Because of the nexus between terrorism finance and narcotics trafficking in Mozambique, the US was also looking at helping Maputo with counternarcotics efforts. The US was also looking at border security measures because of the movements of the insurgents across the border into Tanzania. 

Godrey said Washington was also considering other efforts to help build the capacity of the Mozambican government to interdict terrorist attacks “and do crisis response in an effective way”.

The US State Department said last week the Mozambique insurgency — and an insurgency in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — were directly linked to the global leadership of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria which it called “Isis-Core.” Isis-DRC, also known as the Allied Democratic Forces or Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahideen, has carried out many brutal attacks against civilians and DRC or UN forces in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces in eastern DRC under the leadership of Seka Musa Baluku. 

“Today’s designations notify the US public and the international community that these groups have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism,” and they identify their leaders, the State Department said.

“Terrorist designations expose and isolate entities and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system.  Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments.”

However the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last week criticised the Mozambique sanctions measures in particular, saying they risked impeding humanitarian efforts in Cabo Delgado and hobbling potential disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) activities. 

It said the sanctions were unlikely to significantly advance US counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts, in part because it said the insurgents probably did not own any assets in the US which could be sanctioned. 

The CSIS also said the Mozambique ASWJ insurgency “most likely makes its own operational and strategic decisions and does not act on orders from the Islamic State’s core.”

CSIS said such terrorist designations were particularly effective against organisations financed through charities and diaspora networks that were relatively easy to detect and isolate. They were less effective against organisations that primarily relied on crime to finance their operations.

It said that ASWJ did not appear to have assets in the US and its members were unlikely to travel to the US. The group relied on looting supplies and profiting from the thriving illicit economy in northern Mozambique.

CSIS also worried that Maputo might view the US terrorist designations “as an affirmation of its narrative of an externally fomented conflict and may use it to validate the government’s emphasis on a military response to the insurgency. 

“Mozambican officials last year started to stress the conflict’s external dimension, presumably seeking to deflect any blame for the region’s disaffection and mismanaging of the security response.

“A continued focus on a military campaign at the expense of social and economic programmes to foster greater development and stability will likely prolong the conflict,” it said.

CSIS said the terrorist designations would aggravate the already large problems in getting humanitarian assistance to the conflict zone. The designations would restrict the ability of humanitarian aid organisations to engage in essential dialogue with arms groups to receive security assurances.

“The Biden administration should consider revoking this designation or at least immediately issue waivers or general licences for humanitarian assistances,” the CSIS said, noting how this had been done in Yemen. 

The CSIS also feared the terrorist designations might hamper future international, regional, and Mozambican efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.

It noted that several of Mozambique’s other external partners and neighbours were trying to curb the insurgency. 

“The US designation has the potential to force their hands, retooling their engagement activities and issuing their own terrorist proscriptions. 

“It may also prompt President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique to reconsider his recent olive branch to the group when he dangled amnesty to individuals who break ties with ASWJ.

The designation also could complicate eventual US efforts to demobilise, disarm and reintegrate the insurgents because it was challenging to engage in most forms of communication or engagement with listed Foreign Terrorist Organisations. DM


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All Comments 3

  • Forget amnesty and peace talks. The problem with liberalists is that they are forever trying to do the ‘right’ thing at the cost of human lives. This terrorist group has already wiped out an entire village in a gruesome way. Why USA again if there is an AU? Oh, yes, sorry. They are incompetent.

    • Agree, the AU’s monumental incompetence, dithering & general lackadaisical attitude to these things has tragically cost thousands of innocent lives & destroyed thousands more livelihoods. No one else but themselves to blame for this disaster.

  • Despite the fact that many are loathe to admit this, it’s been clear that unless & until the US gets involved, this situation is going to continue to spiral out of control. It was never going to happen with Trump, I doubt he even knew where Mozambique is, somewhere between “Nambia” & Egypt?

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