The Second Battlefield
As an Insurgency Continues in Northern Mozambique, Soldiers Gain Ground Through Civil-Military Operations
At first glance, a football tournament, a literacy drive, food distribution and a medical clinic might not seem like part of the fight against violent extremism. But several contingents in the multinational force in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province are finding such operations useful in a region typically lacking such services.
The Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) is “engaging local communities and leadership through various community building programs aimed at assisting the local communities and leadership to regain normalcy and confidence lost through terror activities that marred the Cabo Delgado Province over a period of years,” Maj. Mosala K. Letshwiti, chief public information officer at SAMIM force headquarters, wrote on the mission’s Facebook page in May 2023.
There’s more to stopping an insurgency than just winning on the battlefield. Soldiers must contend for the hearts and minds of affected civilians so they become allies in the fight against violent extremists. Such work is known as civil-military operations (CMO).
“In terms of civil-military operations and the value that they have, it’s essential to any kind of counterinsurgency effort,” said Dr. Daniel Eizenga, a research fellow and expert on CMO at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Cabo Delgado province has been under siege from a group called Ansar al-Sunna since 2017. The insurgents, known colloquially as al-Shabaab although not connected to the Somali group, had killed more than 4,700 people as of July 9, 2023, according to Cabo Ligado, a website that monitors violence in the region. The conflict displaced close to 1 million people.
Political grievances against the state, exacerbated by local communal grievances, are the main elements of an insurgency, Eizenga told ADF. CMO mitigates that through various programs and aid, which reconnect communities with the state in a positive way through “short-term infusions into the economy to help get the development engine running again.”
Military forces are well equipped for such work because they have the organizational and logistics chains necessary in areas that otherwise might lack a strong connection to government services, Eizenga said. A force like SAMIM serves to “soften the ground for the government to come back in” and establish and sustain essential services.
Helping civilians in Cabo Delgado has proved especially important, as insurgents reportedly are using money and food to try to win support from the population. Troops with the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) have warned residents of Nkonga village of the tactic. Nkonga served as an insurgent base until a November 2022 SAMIM offensive drove out militants and allowed residents to return.
SAMIM forces have performed humanitarian operations as individual contingents and in combination with each other. One prominent provider of CMO has been the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) Combat Team Alpha Civil-Military Coordination Team, which arrived in Cabo Delgado province in July 2022.
Combat Team Alpha set up a 500-square-meter camp known as Mihluri Base in the Macomia area soon after arriving. Within months an airstrip was under construction at Xinavane, south of Macomia.
The team worked primarily in the Macomia, Mueda and Nangade areas, providing aid in camps for internally displaced people (IDP), until it rotated out in April 2023.
South African Soldiers visited the IDP camp in Xinavane, home to 350 people living mostly in tents, multiple times. In July 2022, the team distributed food parcels to primary schools serving more than 3,500 students, according to the SANDF. Team members distributed food again in November 2022, raising enough money from among themselves to buy cooking pots and porridge packs to add to the food rations they had provided. A month later, the team donated feminine hygiene products to women and girls at the IDP camp.
“The South African Combat Team Alpha Civil-Military Coordination team mostly relies on the generosity of the deployed members, members so far have been donating or making contribution from their own pockets,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. N. Mhlongo on the SANDF Facebook page.
In addition to food and other aid, the South African personnel intended to establish a library to encourage literacy in the area. The effort started with a box of books donated by the Ponelopele Reading Club in Polokwane, a city in South Africa.
LDF personnel, in tandem with counterparts from the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF), also have conducted a number of civil-military engagements. In May 2022, the two contingents contributed food parcels to those living in the Nangade Refugee Camp. Some of the 200 people in the camp had been living there for two years. Nangade is the sector allocated to LDF and TPDF troops under SAMIM.
“I am running out of words because even in a single day we never thought that Soldiers from foreign countries can extend their helping hands to the helpless people of Nangade,” said camp leader Selehe Saide on behalf of the refugees.
LDF and TPDF forces teamed up with staff members from the Nangade Health Centre to hold a medical services event on May 12, 2023. The medical event, which marked International Nurses Day, provided free services to 153 people in Nangade City and neighboring villages, including primary care, and malaria screening and treatment. SAMIM forces also donated medicine to the center.
A few days later, LDF troops joined other local football teams in a tournament organized by Nangade police to mark Police Day. Medical personnel provided health care, screenings and treatment to another 107 people in Alamba village.
“We are doing our best to fulfil our mission, hence why you always see us patrolling on your areas and even paying you a visit at your villages to build a rapport with you,” LDF Contingent Commander Lt. Col. Malefetsane Makhoahle told participating teams and audience members at the tournament.
In July 2023, LDF and TPDF personnel provided medical services to residents of the Fifth Congresso village in Nangade district. Lt. Col. Boiketsiso Fonane, LDF contingent deputy commander, told civilians there that they should feel free to go about their normal routines. “We are your protectors and your friends,” he said. “We are urging you to put all trust on us. We are ready to hunt the insurgents wherever they are hiding in this district. We will never let you down, and you should know that we are part of you.”
A little more than a year after deploying in July 2021, SAMIM began to switch its focus from primarily military operations to a combination of military, civilian, police and correctional operations, according to SADC.
South African Maj. Gen. Xolani Mankayi, SAMIM force commander, said the transition would see the components working together to restore peace and stability in Cabo Delgado. He called on stakeholders to support the Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan, which aims to restore public services, rebuild infrastructure and promote socioeconomic recovery.
In July 2022, SAMIM welcomed new troops to the mission. At that time, Brig. Simon M. Barwabatsile of Botswana, mission deputy force commander, explained the importance of humanitarian assistance to new arrivals. “In our achievement as a collective we need civilian involvement to play various roles, such as undertaking confidence-building programs, in order to eliminate mistrust within our society in Cabo Delgado province,” he said, according to a video from SA Defence News. “Cohesion remains our cornerstone in order to foster peace and security as well as to sustain social economic development in Cabo Delgado province.”
As SAMIM forces sought to extend their civilian outreach focus, awareness of humanitarian partners and their differing mandates and responsibilities would be essential. To that end, SAMIM and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs conducted humanitarian induction training for new members of the Botswana Defence Force stationed in Pemba during April 2023.
Training included the international legal framework applied to IDPs, the principles of humanitarian action, international human rights law and the various humanitarian actors in the region.
By mid-2023, SAMIM was continuing to make headway in its battle against insurgents. Cabo Delgado Gov. Valige Tauabo told Zumbo FM radio in June 2023 that more than 400,000 IDPs had returned home.
As SAMIM continues in Cabo Delgado, it will be important for the mission to gradually hand over the work of providing essential services to the Mozambican government. This will be challenging, Eizenga said. Mediated political engagement will be needed between local authorities and national officials out of the capital, Maputo, to help make this happen.
“What becomes crucial is that they can pass the baton at some point.”
MISSION PROFILE: Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM)
The SADC mission was deployed in Mozambique on July 15, 2021, as a regional response to help the nation combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism against civilians in some districts of Cabo Delgado province.
The SAMIM mandate includes neutralizing terrorist threats and restoring security to create a secure environment, strengthening and maintaining peace and security, and restoring law and order in affected areas of the province. It also supports Mozambique, in collaboration with humanitarian agencies, to continue providing relief to populations affected by terrorism, including internally displaced persons.
Since its deployment, SAMIM has recaptured villages, dislodged terrorists from their bases, and seized weapons and warfare materiel, which has helped ensure safer passage for humanitarian support.
Eight SADC countries have deployed troops under SAMIM. They are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. SAMIM troops work with Mozambican forces and other troops, such as those deployed by Rwanda, to combat acts of terrorism and violent extremism.
In mid-July 2023, SADC extended the SAMIM mandate for another year.