South African Special Forces have arrived in Mozambique as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional standby force to help Mozambique defeat its Islamist insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado province.
Special Forces appear to have arrived in Pemba on Monday, with photos showing a South African Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ Hercules (406) unloading soldiers and Hornet vehicles (the Hornet is used by South Africa’s Special Forces). Photos also showed a Botswana Defence Force C-130 at Pemba unloading troops and equipment.
Military sources told the Daily Maverick that leading elements of the SADC standby force, including its South African commander, were in Mozambique. The Deployment Commander is believed to be Major General Xolani Mankayi, who served as Commander of the SANDF Peace Mission to Burundi.
The advance team is not expected to be immediately involved in direct combat operations against al-Sunna insurgents. Their main mission is to gather intelligence, conduct reconnaissance, advise the Mozambican military, and prepare command and control structures for a potential deployment of a full SADC brigade, notes African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier.
Mozambique’s defence minister Jaime Neto on 15 July said that Mozambique had lodged an official request for military intervention from neighbouring countries to help quell its insurgency.
The “request for the intervention of SADC in Cabo Delgado has been formally finalised,” he said, adding that the government had sent a signed “status of forces” agreement to the 16-state Southern African Development Community’s secretariat in Botswana’s capital last Wednesday. A status of forces agreement is necessary before forces can be deployed. Neto added that the SADC had already sent four officers to study the situation and work out logistics.
The SADC on 16 July presented instruments of authority for the deployment of the SADC Standby Force to Mozambique, marking a major step in the regional effort to combat terrorism and violent extremism in Cabo Delgado.
On 18 July, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the rapid deployment force scheduled for Mozambique would identify challenges and if it found the security situation adequate, possibly a full SADC brigade might not be deployed. A provisional report from April proposed an SADC force of nearly 3 000 troops, supported by air and sea assets.
Deployment of the Standby Force was approved by an SADC Summit last month – after a third extraordinary summit of its heads of state and government and a similar number of meetings of the regional bloc’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security seeking to stop violent insurgency in northern Mozambique.
Opposition party Democratic Alliance on the weekend said the South African National Defence Force deployment to Mozambique should be put on hold until unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng is contained. 25 000 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are deployed under Operation Prosper to maintain law and order in South Africa, leaving the SANDF thinly stretched.
“Priority should be placed on stabilising the security situation in the country and restoring law and order. South Africa’s ability to meet its international military assistance obligations is only possible if our own internal security is stable and secure,” the Democratic Alliance’s shadow defence minister Kobus Marais said.
Rwanda, meanwhile, has deployed 1 000 troops to northern Mozambique under a bilateral agreement. Soldiers from Rwanda, which is not a member of SADC, would fight alongside Mozambique’s forces and SADC troops, the Rwandan government said on 9 July when the deployment began.
“The Rwandan contingent will support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilisation and security-sector reform,” the Rwandan government said in a statement.
Rwandan troops appear to have started patrols in at least the Nangade district of Cabo Delgado as well as near Afungi, the site of a natural gas processing plant. Several dozen insurgents have apparently been killed in skirmishes with Rwandan troops.
The Rwandan deployment has raised the ire of some SADC members, as Rwanda’s involvement is not under SADC control. According to Darren Olivier, defence expert and Director at African Defence Review, having SANDF, Botswana Defence Force and other SADC forces under one command, Rwanda Defence Force forces under an independent command, and Mozambican military forces under their own command all operating in the same area without a clear mechanism for deconfliction and cooperation “is a recipe for disaster.”
Although Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi has resisted intervention over the past year, violence has escalated dramatically in Cabo Delgado. The insurgency, which began in 2017 as a local conflict, has grown in size and violence. Nearly 3 000 have been killed in the conflict — half of them civilians — and about 800 000 people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations.