July 25, 2021

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Why are US troops stationed in Mozambique?

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A surge in militant attacks in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado has prompted the government to rethink its counter-insurgency approach.
It has asked military advisors from the United States to assist its own armed forces in the conflict.

It has asked military advisors from the United States to assist its own armed forces in the conflict.

What is the role of US forces?

The Mozambican and US governments have reached an agreement for American troops to train local troops fighting the al-Shabaab militia, which is suspected of having ties to the larger Islamic State group (IS).
The US embassy in Mozambique said on March 15 that “US special operations troops… will support Mozambique’s attempts to deter the spread of terrorism and violent extremism.”
“Clearly, the United States is attempting to expand its sphere of influence,” says Jasmine Opperman, an analyst for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), which tracks political violence around the world.
However, she points out that it is a complicated local conflict, and that “the US is framing the insurgency in a very over-simplified fashion by referring to [the militants] as an extension of the Islamic State.”
Al-Shabaab in Mozambique was named as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US government on March 10, identifying it as an IS affiliate.
Portugal, Mozambique’s former colonial power, has also pledged to military training.
A Portuguese official said, “We will send a staff of approximately 60 trainers to Mozambique to train marines and commandos.”

Mercenary forces

Private military contractors have been operating in the area alongside Mozambican security forces, despite the government’s reluctance to acknowledge their presence.
In the beginning of 2019, the area was occupied by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group.
More recently, the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) of South Africa is believed to have been summoned by the Mozambican government to assist in the fight against insurgents.
According to a recent Amnesty International report on human rights violations in Cabo Delgado, this group, as well as government troops and militants, were all involved in the illegal killings of civilians.
The DAG claims it is looking into the complaints leveled against it.

“When you hear these accusations of civilian casualties involving private military contractors, it reflects badly on the government,” says Emilia Columbo, a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Concerns have also been raised about the efficiency of these private contractors.
The involvement of mercenaries, according to acting US counterterrorism coordinator John Godfrey, “has not demonstrably helped” the government of Mozambique combat the threat posed by militants.

What’s driving the conflict?

Cabo Delgado has long been a source of unrest, but an uptick in Islamist-linked violence began in 2017.
It’s a poor area where people are fighting for access to land and employment.

However, Cabo Delgado’s significance to the government, as well as a source of local resentment, stems from the rich off-shore natural gas reserves that are currently being investigated in collaboration with international energy firms.

The militants appear to have had a lot of success recruiting both from within the province and from outside of it.

“I would say based on how quickly they spread, it speaks to a huge increase in recruitment”, says Emilia Columbo.

“We get reports of boats full of youths getting intercepted on the way to Cabo Delgado.”

Between January and December 2020, Acled recorded over 570 violent crimes in the province.
Killings, beheadings, and kidnappings have been among them, with deaths from attacks carried out by all parties engaged in the conflict increasing dramatically last year.
The most terrifying incident involved 50 people being beheaded over the course of a weekend on a sports field.

Militants have reportedly destroyed a large number of buildings across northern Mozambique, according to human rights organizations. As a result of the unrest, a large number of people have fled their homes in areas where conflict has erupted.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 670,000 persons were internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Niassa, and Nampula provinces by the end of 2020.

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