Mozambique: How Rwandan Troops Notched Up Early Successes in Cabo Delgado - Report

Rwandan troops embarking for Mozambique.
19 August 2021

Cape Town — Rwandan troops have notched up "remarkable" early successes against insurgents in the Cabo Delgado region of northern Mozambique, reports a civil society observer group. The group also suggests that the Rwandan intervention is being received favourably by Mozambican civilians.

The latest monthly report from the group, Cabo Ligado, attributes the Rwandan successes to their capacity to fight back when the insurgents, known locally as Al Shabaab, ambush their troops. They respond more effectively to ambushes than Mozambican soldiers, the group says.

Cabo Ligado describes itself as a "conflict observatory" jointly established by Mozambique's Mediafax and Zitamar News services and the international Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

The group's July report,  issued on August 16, says Rwanda's 700 soldiers and 300 police officers "quickly entered the fight" upon arriving in Cabo Delgado. They made an immediate impact by successfully seizing territory along the important N380 highway, retaking the strategic towns of Diaca, Awasse and the port of Mocimboa da Praia in under a month.

"In battles for the N380 corridor, the most common insurgent approach has been to set ambushes for Mozambican troops as they travel along a predictable, heavily wooded route," according to the Cabo Ligado report.

"Mozambican troops invariably retreated in the wake of these ambushes, sometimes leaving behind valuable equipment. As Rwandan troops advanced along the N380, they also faced insurgent ambushes, such as the incidents on 28 July near Awasse.

"Rather than fall back, however, Rwandan troops had the training, leadership, and experience to assault through the ambush and win these engagements. Winning ambush encounters neutralized the insurgents' main strategy for defending the approach to Mocimboa da Praia."

Civilians appear to approve of the Rwandan forces, the report adds.

"Civilians in Nangade and Palma districts, where Rwandan troops have been deployed and interact with civilians frequently, report highly favorable opinions of the intervening force.... Civilians in Palma district who remain outside the civilian safe zone at Quitunda say that they feel confident in the Rwandans' ability to differentiate them from insurgents—a remarkable feat, given the language barrier."

Other features of the Cabo Ligado report suggest that:

  • Since the Rwandan intervention, the Islamic State terrorist group has intensified its propaganda claiming successes in the region, although its claims lack any detail indicating it is receiving intelligence from local insurgents;
  • Local Mozambican militias which receive only weapons and uniforms from the government and operate independently of the army are playing a role in the fighting; and
  • Details of the mandate and deployment of the regional governments' military intervention in Cabo Delgado – the Southern African Development Community's Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) – remain sketchy.

Read the full Cabo Ligado monthly report.

[Update - August 19] The observatory's latest weekly report, published on August 18, points to details of the size of the Southern African force to be deployed by the SAMIM. It says that at the launch of the mission, it was revealed that the initial force will comprise 738 soldiers and 19 civilian experts.

It adds: "The largest group will be from Tanzania, which, after some speculation that it would not be contributing, will send 277 personnel. There are indications from some sources that Tanzanian troops are already on the ground in Cabo Delgado.

"South Africa is sending 270 troops, Botswana 108, Lesotho 70, and Angola 16. The presentation made no mention of the 304 Zimbabwean military trainers promised to the mission by the Zimbabwean defense minister in late July. The only Zimbabwean contribution referred to in the presentation was a single civilian expert.

"The force of 757 is a far cry from the 3,000 recommended by the SADC technical team in June, and even less than the 1,000 personnel deployed by Rwanda alone. The disparity may reflect struggles to fund the mission, as well as ongoing tensions between Mozambique and its fellow SADC members"

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