Sunday Times

Maputo ‘flying blind’ as SA operatives exit war


The cancellati­on of a South African company’s contract to provide combat helicopter support to Mozambican security forces has created a critical security vacuum that insurgents are exploiting, analysts say.

They say the loss of air defence capabiliti­es supplied by the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) makes the 670,000 refugees displaced by fighting between Mozambican forces and the insurgents even more vulnerable.

Compoundin­g the worsening security situation, the analysts say, is the lack of support from the Southern African Developmen­t Community (Sadc).

DAG was accused in an Amnesty Internatio­nal report last month of being responsibl­e for killing and injuring civilians in at least five towns and villages.

Its operatives were accused of failing to discern between rebels and civilians, indiscrimi­nately using machine-guns and hand grenades and dropping improvised explosive devices on civilians.

In response to the report, the company said it had begun an investigat­ion. But within weeks its helicopter pilots were instrument­al in rescuing more than 300 civilians when the town of Palma was overrun by insurgents last month.

DAG’s three-year contract ended on April 6, shortly before Sadc heads of state met in Maputo 10 days ago and ordered the deployment of a technical team to conduct an assessment for a possible regional interventi­on. The team’s findings will be reported at another Sadc meeting on April 29.

Since 2017, the insurgency group, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, has waged a war against the Maputo government, seizing control of areas of the Cabo Delgado province. Nearly 3,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Some of those rescued in Palma were South Africans working on a R900bn gas project run by French company Total on the nearby Afungi peninsula. DAG operatives also retrieved the body of South African Adrian Nel, who was shot dead by insurgents in an ambush on the convoy he was in.

Hundreds of civilians, mostly Mozambican­s, were killed in the six-day battle, which ended when the insurgents conducted a tactical withdrawal.

Internatio­nal Crisis Group senior consultant Piers Pigou said many of Mozambique’s helicopter pilots and crew had yet to complete combat and integratio­n training, so DAG’s departure had created a vacuum.

Security analyst Johann Smith, based in Mozambique, said the rebels stole about 120 vehicles, including bakkies, motorbikes and fuel trucks. They were now preparing to open new fronts further east and south, closer to the town of Pemba.

“DAG pilots were the single reason the rebels’ offensive on Pemba last year was stopped,” said Smith.

“The insurgents know that with the withdrawal of DAG, the Mozambique security forces ... are flying blind in being able to rapidly respond to new attacks.

“The rebels will definitely exploit the vacuum that has been created to wage an increasing war of terror on civilians.”

Smith said a humanitari­an disaster was in the offing. “With the fighting, no-one is planting. There is a very real risk of massive hunger. Time is of the essence but no-one knows when or if the internatio­nal community will react. Sadc should have intervened months ago.

“Countries like South Africa, Botswana and Angola can provide crucial air support, including drones, to pin down the rebels and help the Mozambican ground forces deal with them effectivel­y.”

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