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CABO DELGADO INSURGENCY

Depleted SANDF troops in northern Mozambique battle Islamic State insurgents in Macomia

Depleted SANDF troops in northern Mozambique battle Islamic State insurgents in Macomia
A military convoy of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) rides along a dirt road in the Maringanha district in Pemba on 5 August 2021. (Photo: Alfredo Zuniga / AFP)

There have been fierce battles in Macomia after Islamic State-linked insurgents on Friday attacked the town, where only a depleted SANDF force remained.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF), in the process of withdrawing from northern Mozambique, had to fight a hard battle with insurgents in the town of Macomia in the province of Cabo Delgado on Friday, 10 May. 

A large insurgent group attacked the inland town where the SANDF has a base. Most of the SANDF soldiers had already withdrawn to the coastal provincial capital of Pemba – about 130km to the southeast – in preparation for leaving the country by July.

They had left a small contingent at the base in Macomia. After the insurgents attacked the town, SANDF reinforcements were rapidly deployed from Pemba to help them. According to some unconfirmed reports, the force from Pemba was ambushed and two SANDF armoured personnel carriers were destroyed. 

However, the SANDF did not confirm this detail. SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini told Daily Maverick only that “the South African National Defence Force confirms that it encountered the insurgent group in Macomia area and the SANDF successfully repelled the encounter without suffering any casualties or injuries”. 

The SANDF forces form part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM). The sharp clash in Macomia has raised further doubts about the wisdom of SADC’s decision to withdraw SAMIM from Mozambique by July. Much of the force, including most of the SANDF troops, have already left Mozambique. It is understood that about 300 SANDF infantry remain.

SAMIM deployed in northern Mozambique in July 2021 with a mandate from SADC to eliminate the threat posed by the Ahlu al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah (ASWJ), a violent extremist jihadi group affiliated to the Islamic State which has terrorised Cabo Delgado since October 2017, displacing tens of thousands of people. Though SAMIM and a Rwandan Defence Force contingent, which also deployed in Mozambique in July 2021, have weakened ASWJ, the Macomia attack and other recent incidents suggest it remains a significant threat. 

According to security sources, the insurgents attacked Macomia in four groups from different directions. One source said a Rwandan Defence Force contingent based at Mocimboa da Praia, the coastal town northeast of Macomia, also tried to intervene but was stopped by a strong force of insurgents. 

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and the country’s Ministry of National Defence also confirmed the attack on Macomia, but appeared to give the credit for beating off the attack entirely to their own forces. 

The Ministry of National Defence confirmed a “terrorist attack” in Macomia, saying that one of the group’s leaders was wounded by the Mozambique armed forces (FADM) and another killed, according to the Lusa news agency. 

“The attack lasted around 45 minutes and the terrorists were promptly repelled by the coordinated action of our forces, which forced the enemy to retreat towards the interior of the Mucojo administrative post,” according to a Ministry of Defence statement quoted by Lusa.

Mucojo is a town near the coast, about 60km northeast of Macomia. 

The report said one captured insurgent had later died of his injuries. It added that no Mozambican forces had been killed or injured. It made no mention of SANDF forces being involved in the battle. 

Lusa also reported that Nyusi had said at an event in Maputo later on Friday that the insurgents had “put up a very strong resistance; it lasted almost 45 minutes with my young men [FADM soldiers]”.

“We resisted for 45 minutes and they left. I think they organised themselves a bit more, 50 minutes later they came back.”

Nyusi said the attack took place in an area that was previously controlled by SAMIM, which was withdrawing. “But those on the ground are 100% Mozambicans.”

Lusa quoted locals saying the attack had begun in the early hours of Friday morning, as more than 100 insurgents appeared in the centre of the town from the Mucojo road.

“I’m telling you that shooting is happening everywhere; the terrorists have taken over the whole town and still haven’t left. We don’t know if this is the time they want to take it over or not,” one local told Lusa. 

Macomia has been the target of several insurgent attacks, including one in May 2020 when the armed group left the village partially in ruins after having occupied it for almost a week.

Macomia is located on the EN1 national road, which connects to the districts further north, such as Muidumbe, Nangade, Mueda, Mocimboa da Praia and Palma, so this attack also interrupted communication to the five districts.

The security situation in the area was not fully clear on Sunday, although it seemed the insurgents had all withdrawn from Macomia. But fears lingered that they might attack other nearby towns, especially Mucojo. 

Piers Pigou, head of the Southern Africa Programme at the Institute for Security Studies told Daily Maverick: “The attack on Macomia highlights the realities of the mutating insecurity in the province, reinforcing concerns about the wisdom of a total SAMIM withdrawal. This district has remained a constant source of insurgent activity throughout the almost three years of regional intervention.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charl Van Til says:

    Terrorism rampant right next door and the government is silent even as our own troops are at risk.

  • Ismail Fredericks says:

    Give the terrorists aid, immediate ceasefire and negotiate. Same as Gaza

    • Confucious Says says:

      Touche!

    • Confucious Says says:

      Hopefully the troops can link up with the Rwandan forces that are still there. They seem to be taking this insurgency seriously! Of course, what we read is probably a slice of the whole picture and SA has hopefully has some really heavy hitters in Moz… Clearly this isn’t over and hopefully the Brass further reinforces immediately! Hot pursuit is the only way!

  • EK SÊ says:

    Religion of “peace” is a lie. Islam means submission, not peace. Salaam means peace.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Bring back those troops in the DRC this is far more important as its on our borders and yet the anc dont seem to care.

  • Ben Harper says:

    So SA is fighting the same organisation in Moz that is it protecting in the Middle East???

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      No. ASWJ is a Daesh affiliate, like Boko Haram initially was.

      Daesh hates the Iranian regime for being Shia, and detests Sunni Hamas for consorting with the Shia, among many other reasons.

  • A B says:

    Isn’t the same antisemtic racist, Pandor a muslim as well.

  • Daily Maverick is bringing precise news bulletin 🙏🙏🙏

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The insurgents are Moslem Groups, not too dissimilar from ISIS or Hamas.
    Who is Pandor and Dangor supporting one wonders?

  • AN Other says:

    And why are SA troops using AK47s? That’s 7.62mm ammo, SA ammo is 5.56mm – sharing with SADC or run out of budget? Logistics nightmare.

    • Jean Racine says:

      SA troops use R4 & R5 rifles. They also ride around in Mamba and Casspir APCs. SA Special Forces, in the picture, have always used AKs and other rifles.

    • Darren Olivier says:

      South African Special Forces troops, as pictured here, have operationally used AK-family rifles since the 1970s, especially when performing long-range reconnaissance patrols. They do this because of the better performance of the AK 7.62mm round in thick foliage, and to be able to scavenge ammunition from local forces when necessary.

      Normal SANDF units still use the R4 and R5 rifle.

      • David Peddle says:

        The British army in Afghanistan learnt very quickly after growing numbers of casualties, that open vehicles similar those shown here, are open season for IEDS and claymores. One of the reason the world beat a path to South Africa was to acquire our mine protected technology which they did and now we battle to get into the world market dominated by the big US and UK armoured vehicle manufacturers.
        Driving around in this fashion will cost, as the ASWJ ters are well equipped and improving, with ready access to drug funded weapons and one might speculate where they intend to focus next?

  • Roberto Fasulia says:

    I suggest that Pumkin Pandor needs to act quickly.
    1. Phone the Islamist terrorists to congratulate them.
    2. Invite them to SA for a briefing / consultation.
    3. Apply to the UN to sanction Mozambique for defending themselves.
    Let us see how your IS/ Hamas/ Boko Haram love fest will work with the murderous fanatics being not in the Middle East but killing our troops in our own back yard!

    • Robert de Vos says:

      Errr … Pumpkin Pandor …. gotta luvvit! Yep … in states run by Islamists from the Maghreb to the ‘Stans, there is not a single democracy. But she affiliates SA with them instead of the single democracy, Israel.

  • Guys I cant find anything positive here except that the soldiers stood their ground. For the rest bad planning, inexperiencedif any senior officer planning. Where are your numbers- did someone make sums, where is the air support even if it is the only Rooivalk that may still be flying. Artillery. You oaks will not win this war and the tradegymis just loose good soldiers. Remember – this is 2024 – NOBODY IS SCARED OF THE SANDF ANYMORE. You need professional help, beter training and more aggression. May God be with you.

  • W De Soto says:

    Daily Maverick coverage is so helpful!

  • PJ T says:

    Fighting them in Mozambique, supporting them in Gaza.
    Anti US rhetoric, desirous of AGOA
    – signs of a very confused government

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