Recently, SOFREP published an article that U.S. Green Berets from SOCAFRICA were deployed to Mozambique to train host nation marines in the fight against Islamic jihadists in the violent province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. 

The U.S. public is by now used to hearing about American efforts against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Middle East. But the violence and international Islamist ideology have also been spreading to the continent of Africa as underlying issues in affected African countries provide a perfect breeding ground for terrorism.

Some say that the U.S. and Europe are simply trying to build their influence in Africa along Cold War lines. Nevertheless, this thinking disregards that the terrorist groups operating in the continent openly proclaim their allegiance to either ISIS or al-Qaeda and often switch between the two. 

In Mozambique, like in many other places, the violence is increasing, especially against the civilian population.

Who Are the Terrorists in Mozambique and What Supports Them?

The fighting in Mozambique, which began in 2015, is mainly between government forces and the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna, also known as Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ). The group has similar views to its namesake that fought against U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003. Ansar al-Sunna claims that Islam, as practiced in Mozambique, has been corrupted and no longer follows the teachings of Muhammad. The terrorist group wants to spread a much more strict form of Islam. The locals mistakenly call the group “al-Shabaab.”

Compounding the issues in the Cabo Delgado province is the fact that the insurgents speak three different languages: Portuguese (Mozambique is a former colony of Portugal), the local dialect of Kimwane, and Swahili. An interesting footnote is that locals also call the group Swahili Sunnah (the Swahili path), which could indicate a desire to create its own Swahili state along the coast, a traditional Swahili-dominated area.

The group’s leadership follows the same tenets of international jihadism and has similar aims and goals, such as the establishment of an Islamic state following Sharia Law, while rejecting the government’s secular education system.

While local Islamic councils had warned the government of the terrorist group’s existence, nothing was done until Ansar al-Sunna began conducting attacks on several police stations, and against government officials and residents in the town of Mocímboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado Province in 2017. 

Despite crackdowns by police and security officials resulting in the arrests of nearly 500 people, the attacks not only continued but increased. The government tried to hire a South African mercenary firm as well as the Russian Wagner Group, but thus far, their results have been unfavorable. Now, the U.S., as well as Portugal, will deploy troops to defeat the Islamic jihadist violence plaguing Mozambique.

The violence has caused many multinational corporations, which have been investing in Mozambique, to withdraw their employees. Many of those multinational corporations contribute to the economic and societal stress that provides the breeding ground for these Islamic terrorist organizations to target, recruit, and thrive in the country. 

The Cabo Delgado province is home to large oil and natural gas deposits as well as gemstones (rubies and sapphires). These deposits are rumored to be some of the largest in the world. But the local population says that in many cases their land is appropriated without any or proper compensation. Additionally, they add that many of the infrastructure jobs, such as road construction, are not given to locals but to foreigners. 

Besides the religious factors, the prevailing socio-economic and political issues are the main reasons for groups such as ISIS-Mozambique to thrive. With many of the youth in the province suffering from unemployment and therefore not able to afford to start families of their own, they are susceptible to ISIS indoctrination that preys upon these inequalities. ISIS, like al-Qaeda elsewhere, promises to be the “antidote” to the rampant corruption.

The political elite’s corruption and its control over the revenue from the country’s natural resources is a message that easily resonates throughout the poor population in the country’s north. Cabo Delgado and neighboring Nampula and Niassa provinces are the poorest in Mozambique with poverty levels above the national average.

Mozambique’s government is controlled by the FRELIMO party. FRELIMO was initially a Marxist-Leninist organization that fought a long and bloody civil war during the 1970s, won control of the Mozambique government, and by the late 1980s through the early 2000s shifted towards more democratic socialism. But corruption, especially in the judicial system, runs rampant. 

How Can the United States Address the Country’s Terrorism?

The first issue is to stabilize the security situation, which remains tenuous at best in the province of Cabo Delgado. The Green Berets and Portuguese troops can help in training the Mozambican armed forces which are among the most poorly trained in the region. Corruption and human rights abuses also plague the military’s reputation. Additionally, many of the security forces deployed to Cabo Delgado are from the southern area of the country and thus unfamiliar with the people, terrain, and most importantly, the language of the country’s north. 

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Furthermore, the causes of terrorism’s development must be addressed. Mozambique needs an intelligence collection agency and improved counter-insurgency training for the armed forces.

Nevertheless, a military solution alone is not enough to defeat the insurgency. Rather, a combined political and economic effort, spearheaded by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is needed. 

Mozambique has initiated the Integrated Development Agency of the North which is an important first step that should be supported by the U.S. and Europe. According to Radio Mozambique, this is an initiative for “productive social assistance to affected families which is aimed at productive inclusion, providing an integrated package of services, training, and technical assistance, to create opportunities for self-employment and employment, in particular for young people and for women.”

The U.S. is Mozambique’s largest aid donor, but this aid shouldn’t be just given with no oversight, otherwise, the corruption that already plagues the country will grow as was exemplified in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

As MG Dagvin Anderson (Commander SOCAFRICA) pointed out in his comments at the Global SOF Foundation Symposium two weeks ago, besides America’s Special Forces a concerted effort involving an inflow of American capital can defeat the insurgency.