Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), the private military company providing aerial support to Mozambique’s armed forces in Cabo Delgado province, is having its contract with the Mozambique government extended to at least the end of 2020 — with the aim to include a training element for Mozambique’s ground troops as well.
The company, led by retired Zimbabwean colonel Lionel Dyck, started operations in early April on a three-month contract, which will have expired in early July. After a difficult start, in which they lost a helicopter to enemy fire on one of their first sorties, DAG’s helicopters have been credited with deterring an insurgent advance on the city of Pemba, and supporting government forces’ efforts to retake the towns of Macomia, at the end of May, and Mocímboa da Praia, at the end of June. DAG has however also lost another aircraft, a reconnaissance microlight, which came down near Miangalewa in June and whose pilot, Mark Tout, remains in hospital in Johannesburg.
DAG’s helicopter gunships have also been accused of causing civilian casualties, particularly in the battle for Macomia when eyewitnesses said the helicopters shot indiscriminately at anything that moved. Their job was made harder because insurgents often wear the uniforms of the Mozambican military.
DAG’s operation is understood to have been run on a shoestring budget, with dated technology and pilots who accepted relatively low rates, due to financial constraints at the Ministry of the Interior which is the contracting party. Multiple sources have told Zitamar that the contract is going to be extended — and the budget expanded significantly — and will include a training element for Mozambique’s ground troops.
Zitamar’s sources differed on whether the contract would be extended to eight months, or by eight months — either taking it through to December 2020, or to the beginning of March 2021.
The effectiveness of DAG’s helicopters in the conflict so far has been hampered by the need to return to Pemba to refuel, which is to the south of the conflict zone and 185km from Mocímboa da Praia.
One other refuelling option is the military base at Mueda, 94km from Mocímboa da Praia. But the aerodrome at Macomia, roughly halfway between Pemba and Mocímboa da Praia, and 163km from the LNG site at Afungi, is also being converted into a forward airfield for refuelling helicopters. Conversion work started before the town was attacked by insurgents in May, a local source told Zitamar.
Government forces have banned locals from walking through the Macomia airfield, and have created a diversion around it, the local source said. One man who continued to take a short cut through the airfield has now gone missing, and locals suspect that the government forces on the airfield are responsible for his disappearance.
Ground troop training
One source told Zitamar that the extended contract will include DAG providing training to the Mozambican troops to act more effectively in conjunction with the aerial firepower. The tactic, the source said, is modelled on the ‘Fireforce’ tactic developed by the Rhodesian army, in which Dyck was an officer, during the Rhodesian Bush War in the 1970s. The South African army used similar tactics when fighting in southern Angola and Namibia.
For the tactic to work, DAG or the Mozambican air force will need troop-carrying helicopters that can quickly bring reinforcements to ground troops who make contact with the enemy. Another source told Zitamar that DAG is currently engaged in trying to procure one such aircraft.
DAG’s continued involvement remains complicated in the light of South African legislation outlawing South African companies from providing private military services abroad without explicit permission from the South African government. Nevertheless, turning a blind eye to DAG’s violation of that law may be a simpler solution for South Africa than getting officially involved through its state military.
On Wednesday, Mozambican online newspaper Carta de Moçambique said that its sources within the Mozambican military “guaranteed that the [Mozambican] state is designing military strategies, in conjunction with some countries in the region, north Africa, and Asia, to face up to the terrorist groups — having already received modernised war materiel and helicopters which are just waiting for authorisation from the President for their use.”
This article was produced under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED and with support from Crisis Group. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.