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Sobering SAMIM assessment reflects mission’s inadequacies and the insurgency’s evolution

Throughout December, as described in Cabo Ligado’s weekly reporting, SADC forces continued to battle insurgents, mainly in Macomia and Nangade districts, killing a number of insurgents, but also taking several casualties themselves.

Cabo Ligado has secured insight into SAMIM’s own internal assessments of progress and challenges in Cabo Delgado. The assessments were made ahead of SADC’s January 2022 Summit that extended SAMIM operations for an expected six months. The assessment is a sobering reflection of an array of operational and logistical issues in play, setting a scene for strengthening counterinsurgency operations and strategic planning in the months ahead.

Following the October 2021 Organ Troika meeting that authorised the extension of the SAMIM mission to mid-January 2022, an assessment was conducted that led to the presentation of a progress report to SADC’s Inter State Defence and Security Committee in early November.

The assessment charts operational progress between August and October 2021, and reflects on various developments from changing insurgent tactics (i.e. the use of IEDs and the challenge of tackling smaller disparate insurgent groups) to the limitations of information and intelligence sharing, which has become even more challenging in a complex and fluid security situation.

The decision to establish a Joint Operation Committee (JOC) with representatives from the Mozambican military, the Rwanda Defence Force, and SAMIM following the joint forces commanders meeting at Mocímboa da Praia on 13 October opened the door to more effective counterinsurgency options. It is unclear, however, how effective the JOC has been. SAMIM remains unclear about the number of insurgents killed, and the whereabouts of insurgent forces that had been estimated by Mozambique at 2,500 – 3,000 strong. SAMIM’s report suggests only a few hundred are still active in the field, and that an unknown number may have moved into other areas of Cabo Delgado, including infiltration back into civilian populations, as well as north of the Ruvuma river, into Tanzania.

After the capture of material from insurgent bases in September, SAMIM established a Joint Intelligence Task Team, comprising some member state representatives, who together reviewed captured insurgent materials, which has enabled SAMIM to gain further insight into the leadership, member origins, and organisational structure of the insurgency. This information clearly informed subsequent SAMIM operations that focused on disabling remaining bases in the Macomia area in late November and December. Materials captured during earlier operations confirm that operational leadership in the insurgency is in the hands of Mozambicans and that there are some foreign elements that guide overall strategic leadership. The report, however, confirms speculation that Mozambique has not been sharing intelligence on these issues with SAMIM.

The recovery of hundreds of Qurans and other texts of religious instruction confirmed that insurgents have what the assessment calls “a well-organised extremist Islamic indoctrination  program.” It is also clear that they had plans to extend operations into neighbouring provinces (i.e. Niassa, Zambezia, and Nampula).

The assessment points to some positive security developments, namely that police stations in some affected villages are again operational and that community policing structures in affected areas are functional. What this means in practice though is unclear. Building relations between SAMIM forces and local communities will be an essential longer-term goal. The SAMIM report points to opportunities for the security forces to build a winning hearts and minds strategy, as the population provides ‘support’ for insurgents largely out of fear of insurgent coercion.

The assessment also reflects on the important role joint forces are playing with respect to the humanitarian situation, supporting displaced people returning to their communities in some areas and assisting with the provision of support to them from a raft of NGOs and humanitarian agencies. Expediting returns of displaced people, however, is complicated by a clear need to ensure improved intelligence and liaison capacity within these communities, which is critical for tackling the insurgent infiltration challenge.

The assessment looks at SAMIM’s current military capabilities versus required capabilities, concluding that logistics support is inadequate, and highlighting the need for beefing up aircraft logistical support, maritime patrol aircraft, and improved communications between marine and ground forces. SAMIM’s leadership has called on its member states to urgently provide resources to cover the air, ground, and maritime capability gaps, including a dedicated air medical evacuation team. Interestingly, the report calls on Mozambique to provide detail of its “training requirements,” something it has evidently already provided to the EU’s Training Mission and Rwanda. This may explain why the Zimbabwe training component of the SADC intervention remains on ice.