At least one member of South Africa’s military was killed in fighting between Mozambican and allied forces and Islamist insurgents in Macomia district, Cabo Delgado, over the past weekend.
The South African government confirmed the loss in a statement on Tuesday — but one source in the Mozambican military told Zitamar there were strong indications that many more members of the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) were killed over the weekend.
The South African soldiers were ambushed by insurgents east of the village of Chai, in Macomia, according to a statement from the South African Department of Defence. The soldiers managed to fight through the ambush but were attacked again while waiting for a helicopter to come and evacuate them. “During this incident, an SANDF (South African National Defence Force) member was shot and declared dead on the scene,” the statement said.
Zitamar understands the deceased soldier was a member of South Africa’s special forces — and would be the first member of the special forces to be killed in action in 32 years, since the so-called Border War when apartheid South Africa fought to prevent Angola’s and Namibia’s independence.
The government statement said the incident happened on Monday, 20 December, but SANDF spokesman Andries Mahapa conceded by phone to Zitamar that it may in fact have happened on the night of Sunday, 19 December.
A source in Pemba told Zitamar on Monday that SAMIM troops were ambushed by insurgents in Macomia on Saturday, saying one of the wounded soldiers, believed to be South African, is being treated at the Cabo Delgado provincial hospital in Pemba.
“This is the first SANDF combat death in this mission,” one well-connected South African source told Zitamar on Monday night, stressing: “something went wrong.” At least two, possibly three, SANDF special forces soldiers were wounded, “potentially in two separate incidents,” said the source.
Large military contingent seen moving north
“There’s been a lot of loss of joint troops, I’m talking about SADC troops. I’m seeing a lot of ambulances filled with dead and injured at Pemba Airport,” one source based at Pemba airport said on Sunday, explaining: “The bodies are being transferred. I believe soon they will send them to their countries of origin.”
The source said the fighting had taken place on Friday and Saturday — and added that the insurgents had captured a South African helicopter. Zitamar’s South African source said however that the Oryx helicopter summoned by SANDF for medevac purposes was “fired at” by insurgents but “not hit.” The SANDF statement confirmed that the body of the killed soldier was flown away from the scene.
Two fishermen who were travelling between Chai and Miangalewa told a Zitamar source in Macomia district that they had seen a large contingent of soldiers and military vehicles moving early on Sunday morning.
The fishermen said they had left their homes around 5am. They hid a way away from the road the troops were travelling along. Whilst hiding, they said they also witnessed helicopters flying northwards away from the direction of Macomia town’s headquarters. Furthermore, within an hour they started hearing the rumblings of bombing, which then led to them chosing to return to their homes.
The fighting continued until at least 3pm on Sunday afternoon they said.
Mozambique’s Minister of National Defence Cristóvio Chume held a press conference on Monday afternoon in Maputo, alongside Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Kagiso Mmusi.
The ex-army commander, now the new defence minister, announced plans for a trip north to Cabo Delgado on Tuesday, before detailing that on Sunday, “December 19, in an operation of the armed forces for the defence of Mozambique, of SADC, these forces assaulted a base, of the terrorists where they shot down 10 terrorists.”
Chume said that “cleaning operations” were still taking place, and said that the base that had been destroyed was where the insurgent’s leader known as Bonomade [Machude Omar] had been, quoting women who had been rescued in the offensive.
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.