The government’s assertions that the current insurgency has been contained have been undermined by a new attack by extremist rebels in the troubled northern region of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique. This offensive has resulted in an additional 80,000 people being displaced.
In a campaign that has continued for more than two months since June, the rebels have increased their territory. The latest attack comes after a time of comparatively calm during which the national police commander-general of Mozambique stated that “the struggle against terrorism is almost at an end.”
However, rebels have pushed further south than ever before, destroying towns and beheading residents in the districts of Ancuabe, Chiure, and Mecufi, which had been unaffected by the conflict since it started in October 2017.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that as a result of the most recent violence, there are now slightly under 950,000 individuals who have been forced to leave Cabo Delgado.
The rebels have advanced despite military assistance that neighboring nations and Rwanda supplied to Mozambique. Foreign forces were stationed in Cabo Delgado a year ago after rebels took control of the vital town of Palma in March of that previous year.
“The prevalence of attacks a year after the beginning of the foreign military intervention confirms what was already clear” that the government is wrong to say the insurrection has been caused by an external invasion, said Albino Forquilha, executive director of FOMICRES, an independent peacebuilding organisation in Mozambique.
“The truth is that the conflict has internal origins due to bad governance and a poor relationship between the state and the local population,” Forquilha continued. “As long as the government ignores this fact, the attacks will not stop.”
Insurgents were successfully driven from the main towns of Cabo Delgado into the forests by Mozambique’s security forces and the allied foreign soldiers, but this effectively placed rural civilians on the front lines.
The insurgency has been marked since June by constant hit-and-run attacks on undefended towns, throwing the military and police off balance as they scramble to react to each occurrence.
“The increase in the number of attacks across dispersed areas will limit the pursuit of armed groups by government forces and their partners,” said João Feijó, a researcher at the Mozambique-based Observatory of the Rural Environment. “It is a strategy that aims to increase the difficulties for government forces and their partners.”
The Southern African Development Community, which originally had a mandate for a three-month period beginning in July 2021, is expected to determine whether to further extend its military intervention in August.
According to experts, the past year’s experience demonstrates that more than simply military power is necessary to subdue the insurgency.