West must not ignore the growing Islamic State threat in Mozambique
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- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Affected Countries: mozambique;
Mozambique has been troubled for some time by Daesh-related groups that have spread to the north of the country from Tanzania and other neighboring countries, and are building their capabilities by hijacking local grievances.
The effects are often horrific, with reports of decapitations and dramatic attempts by foreign nationals to escape escalating violence. The country has become a hotspot for trouble in southeastern Africa and is showing all the signs of becoming the next multinational flashpoint.
The Daesh-affiliated groups that are troubling Mozambique are also expanding across central Africa. The alphabet soup created by the acronyms that identify these groups illustrates the sweeping scale of the transcontinental threat.
Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) last month massacred 58 civilians in a village in Niger, near the border with Mali, and stole large amounts of grain and destroyed vehicles. On the same day in Mali, ISGS members attacked soldiers, killing 33. Both attacks were among the deadliest in their respective countries this year, revealing the serious threat posed by ISGS.
Despite the group’s ongoing clashes with Al-Qaeda’s Sahel affiliate, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, it is its Nigeria-based counterpart, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which is most responsible for a new wave of violence in the surrounding territories.
ISWAP claims and carries out attacks more frequently than other Daesh groups. Sometimes, other groups claim credit, and there is a system that allows them to do so when too much attention might become counterproductive. The frequency of ISWAP attacks is what is notable, outpacing other Daesh groups in the Levant.
Their growing willingness to embrace violence is adding to a toxic situation in Mozambique, which culminated this week in an attack on the town of Palma, during which hundreds of people were killed and others were forced to flee by sea.
The developments in Mozambique reveal a growing capability among the insurgents to take control of key territories. In a sense, Daesh now has a presence from the Gulf of Guinea to Mozambique. This point about its geographic reach is important because a major goal of the fighters, based on a May 2018 call for allegiance, is to create a continent-wide zone of operations.
Both ISGS and ISWAP are joining forces with the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) and militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the fighters in Mozambique are not officially using the ISCAP name, they do use tactics, techniques and procedures that show a steep learning curve. Instead, they are using Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ).
These Mozambican fighters from ASWJ have played a key role in capturing the country’s ports on several occasions. The group and its supporters have previously captured the key port of Mocimboa da Praia. That attack and others have disrupted major projects to develop the nation’s natural gas reserves. More recent attacks have targeted foreign workers and Christians, in what is a significant escalation of Daesh activity.
The ability of Daesh groups to build momentum across the strategic spaces of Africa is increasing at an appropriate time, as major powers are jostling over minerals and other natural wealth. In the near term, the ability of these groups to further exercise freedom of movement in parts of Africa means that more attacks against “outsiders” are likely.
The tactics the militants are using in Mozambique are innovative. Recent reports suggest the group’s ability to hit multiple targets simultaneously in a three-pronged assault, using small-arms fire and mortars, overwhelmed government forces in a matter of hours. This reveals enhanced command and control capabilities, and strong discipline among the fighters.
Mozambique is an important part of southeastern Africa, with a potentially bright economic future that promises to bring new opportunities. Since 2018, however, the extremists have been terrorizing the population by ambushing police and military patrols and raiding targets such as banks and clinics in an attempt to ensure that Cabo Delgado province is ungovernable and inaccessible.
The central government has lost its ability to maintain law and order. Meanwhile, the militants are obtaining better and more powerful weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. These come from ambushes and raids on military patrols or are smuggled by sea or across the border from Tanzania.
Mozambique is being devastated by Daesh, plain and simple. Some foreign countries are trying to help. South Africa, the US and the UK are in talks to provide increased professional military support. Portugal and the US have stepped up their cooperation with efforts to train Mozambican forces. Washington has also designated the leaders of ISCAP in Congo and Mozambique, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, respectively, as terrorists. And US Special Forces this month began training local forces in Mozambique to combat ISCAP.
But there is likely to be little political interest in the West in becoming directly involved in military operations in Africa. This tragedy of underestimating the ability of Daesh-affiliated groups in Africa to mutate, grow and multiply is fueled by the growing distraction of Western nations, whose attention has been diverted elsewhere.
For now, local solutions are still available to curb the growing threat posed by these extremists across the continent.
Source: Arab News