The Mozambican Ministry of Defence on Wednesday denied that the Standby Force of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has already arrived in Mozambique to support the battle against the islamist terrorist groups, known locally as “Al-Shabaab”.

Speaking to reporters, the Ministry spokesperson, Col Omar Saranga, said that so far only advance teams from SADC had arrived, in Maputo and in Cabo Delgado, to prepare the deployment of the main force.

“The SADC heads of state summit, held in Maputo on 23 June, approved a mandate for the deployment of the Standby Force”, said Saranga. “The objective was to support the national efforts to fight against terrorism in Cabo Delgado. Following up this mandate, in late June there was a joint planning conference, and this event outlined the next steps that should be taken to deploy the force”.

“What is happening right now is the implementation of this plan”, he continued. “The mandate envisaged that the deployment of the force should happen as from 15 July. So from 15 July to now activities have been undertaken in order to receive this force, which is rather substantial. Steps are being taken so that it can be received and carry out its work. That means there are advance teams which are working with our troops on the ground to receive the force”.

Saranga denied there is any secrecy surrounding the Standby Force and promised that, when the force arrives, the information will be made public.

“When the force arrives, the whole world will see that it has arrived”, he stressed. “It is not a force that is coming here to hide, it’s coming here to support Mozambique in the efforts to fight against terrorism. What we already have, both in Pemba and in Maputo, are the advance teams”.

As for who is to command the force, Saranga said “Questions of command have been outlined in the combined planning. Right now, what is important to say is not who will command or cease to command. The troops will be led by their respective commands, but the chief coordinator is the Republic of Mozambique”.

But he added that the force commander “is South African and his name is Xolani Mankayi. He is already in Mozambique, and he has been received by the Defence Minister and by the Chief of Staff of the Mozambican Armed Forces. He has received a briefing on the situation”.

Asked whether the Rwandan troops who arrived last week have gone into combat against the terrorists, Saranga said “that’s an operational question and I can’t answer it. It’s the force commander who can answer. The enemy may be watching our actions to see what direction we are going to take”.

Saranga added that the SADC member states who will take part in the Standby Force are South Africa, Tanzania, Angola and Botswana, “and we are confident that, during the operations, more countries may express an interest in supporting Mozambique”.

Contrary to reports that Malawi will not join the force, Saranga declared that Malawi will participate.

Although Saranga would not comment on the Rwandans, the independent newssheet “Carta de Mocambique, which is usually well-informed about Cabo Delgado, reported on Thursday that Rwandan forces have already clashed with the terrorists.

The paper’s sources said that on Tuesday soldiers of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) left their base on the Afungi Peninsula to patrol a forested area close to the town of Palma. They found a terrorist group in the Quionga administrative post, retreating towards the Tanzanian border. The Rwandans engaged them and are reported to have killed 30 terrorists.

On Tuesday morning, according to the same source, a Mozambican patrol attacked jihadists in the village of Saba-Saba, on the boundary between the districts of Muidumbe and Mocimboa da Praia. Later on Tuesday, government forces launched a mechanized attack against islamist positions in Mitope village, in Mocimbia da Praia. No further details about these clashes are yet available. (AIM-23 July 2021)