Violent clashes between Islamic State-affiliated insurgents and security forces have escalated on both sides of the Messalo river, in central Cabo Delgado, following the launch of the Mozambican Armed Defence Force’s (FADM) “Vulcão IV” offensive in the area last week.
The most significant incident took place on Tuesday 10 January near Xitaxi in Muidumbe district, on the N380 road near the border with Macomia district, where a FADM base was attacked, killing at least three soldiers. Photos posted on Islamic State (IS) social media allegedly taken after the attack show three bodies in military fatigues. One appears to have been shot in his quarters, while the other two are only half dressed, suggesting they were taken by surprise. In the pictures, the barracks were set on fire.
Several incidents preceded the Xitaxi attack. On Sunday 8 January, a joint force of FADM and troops of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were ambushed on the way to a suspected insurgent base near Litandacua in Macomia district, less than 5km south of the Messalo, a local source reported. Islamic State (IS) claimed via social media that they injured several soldiers and captured ammunition and a reconnaissance plane, most likely some kind of drone.
The next day, insurgents and security forces exchanged fire in Mandava, Muidumbe district, about 15km north of the Messalo. One local source said there were casualties on both sides, while IS claimed to have killed one in addition to capturing more weapons and ammunition.
That day, another clash took place in Macomia district, near the village of Nguida, approximately 20km south of the Messalo. IS acknowledged the incident in another post on social media but no casualties have yet been reported.
On Tuesday, armed escorts were stopped on the road between Awasse and Macomia, due to the fighting further up the road, leading to long queues of vehicles, a local source told Zitamar.
The Vulcão IV operation officially began on 1 January and aims to dislodge insurgents from their bases around the Messalo river, where they have been entrenched since they were driven out of the Katupa forest in western Macomia in July.