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SADC mulls 3,000-strong military deployment to Cabo Delgado

SADC's mission to evaluate what Mozambique needs to defeat the Cabo Delgado insurgency has recommended deploying at least 2,000 ground troops as part of a total 3,000-strong force

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should immediately deploy more than 2,000 ground troops to fight the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, along with air and naval assets to support the Mozambican military’s efforts, according to recommendations that the region's leaders will consider this week.

Mozambique needs help not only with logistics and intelligence, but also with boots on the ground to ensure territory is retaken — including the strategic port town of Mocímboa da Praia, which the SADC report confirms has been under insurgent control since August 2020. The report was signed by Botswanan brigadier Michael Mukokomani, chief of staff of the SADC Standby Force, which would form part of the total of almost 3,000 military personnel deployed, if the recommendations of the report are accepted.

Download the leaked report here

The recommendations will be considered at an extraordinary meeting of the ministerial committee of SADC’s defence and security organ in Maputo tomorrow, and by a further extraordinary summit of the Organ for Politics Defence and Security, comprised of the heads of state from Botswana (chair), South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as President Nyusi, to be held in Maputo the following day, 29 April.

The deployment would include a light infantry brigade made up of three battalions of 620 soldiers each, plus a 90-strong brigade headquarters. Two 70-strong special forces squadrons are also called for, as well as a 100-strong engineer squadron and a 120-strong signal squadron.

Mukokomani’s team recommends that special forces go in first to “conduct targeted operations”, in parallel with naval assets — including two surface patrol ships, each with 180 crew, and two submarines with 45 crew — to “eliminate maritime crime in the Area of Operation”.

In terms of air support, the report calls on SADC to deploy six helicopters, four transport aircraft, two maritime surveillance aircraft, and two unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The report also calls for a 100-strong logistics company to go in, and four air intelligence personnel.

The SADC force would use the port city of Nacala as its point of entry, from where resources would be distributed to relevant points in Cabo Delgado through an integrated logistics base in Pemba. The recommendations foresee the establishment of Forward Logistical Areas in Mueda, Ibo, Palma and Mocímboa da Praia “once the area is cleared of terrorists.”

The whole operation is broadly divided into four phases, in the report. Phase 1 would see the deployment of intelligence assets; phase 2 the deployment of special forces and naval assets; phase 3, “pacification operations”; and phase 4, withdrawal.

Zitamar View: Were SADC to move ahead with the proposal, it would mean a drastic militarisation of Cabo Delgado province — a nightmare, in the short term at least, for the province’s population. Perhaps it could, however, allow Mozambique to retake Mocímboa da Praia and defend Palma. But big question marks remain over whether the SADC countries have the capacity for such a deployment, and whether Mozambique would accept it — and whether a military approach can deliver a sustainable solution to the insurgency in Cabo Delgado which is driven in large part by local discontent.

[dropcap]This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.[/dropcap]