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SADC plans to withdraw troops from Cabo Delgado by July 2024

SADC’s decision follows a field assessment report which concluded that Cabo Delgado is “now calm and state institutions are functional"

Namibian president Hage Geingob at the Virtual SADC Organ Troika Summit. Credit: Namibian Presidency

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) intends to end its military mission in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province within a year, according to the annotated agenda of a summit held on Tuesday seen by Zitamar News.

The extraordinary “organ troika” summit decided to extend the mission for another twelve months in preparation for a complete withdrawal of troops by 15 July 2024, with a view to beginning a phased drawdown by 15 December 2023. The extension was confirmed by Namibian president Hage Geingob on Tuesday, and a communiqué published by SADC the next day, but neither mentioned the withdrawal.

SADC’s decision follows a field assessment report conducted by military, police and civilian personnel from member states which concluded that Cabo Delgado is “now calm and state institutions are functional.”

“Talk of any date of withdrawal is aspirational. They may kick the can down the road but they are indicating their intention to exit,” Piers Pigou, the Southern Africa programme head at the Institute for Security Studies, told Zitamar.

Pigou noted that the field assessment report appears to have been “sanitised” as it contrasts with a leaked SADC threat assessment in June which described the security situation in Cabo Delgado as “unpredictable.” In particular, the field assessment’s claim that the road network is now safe to use across the province is “bordering on irresponsible,” according to Pigou.

SADC also apparently considered both withdrawing its forces in six month’s time and extending the mission for another two years. The first option was dismissed on the basis that it could jeopardise the security situation, while the latter was deemed to be too expensive.

Tensions between SADC and Mozambique

The summit document also sheds light on frustrations between SADC and the Mozambican government. The troika argued that Mozambique’s own assessment report, which claims that SADC forces show little initiative in attacking insurgent bases, “undermines efforts, sacrifices and operational achievements” by SADC.

The troika raised the issue of training Mozambican soldiers, which was supposed to be one of the SADC mission’s responsibilities but, according to the document, Mozambique has never provided its training requirements. SADC also accuses Mozambique of failing to provide enough office space for its personnel, including the head of mission who still works from his hotel room.

Providing air and maritime support to Mozambique was another objective of the mission, which SADC acknowledges it has failed to fulfil. Member states have deployed a small number of aircraft, but they do not include attack helicopters. Some boats were also provided but were later withdrawn due to maintenance problems.