A New Security Phase for the Islamic State Insurgency in Northern Mozambique
The ongoing insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has likely entered a new phase amid increased US security focus and the adoption of a new strategy on the part of the Islamic State (IS). This comes on the heels of heightened tensions in the region, including cross-border incursions into Tanzania, and the release of a new video by IS.
An October 24 assessment highlighted the increased risk of militant activity in the Mozambican provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, and Niassa between late October and mid-November. This culminated in the ambush of a Tanzanian military convoy near the Mozambican during this time, resulting in the abandonment of several vehicles. Another incident took place on November 22nd as well when four members of a local militia in Southern Cabo Delgado were beheaded after a clash with militants.
On November 10, a video of a handwritten note began to circulate on social media accounts used by the Islamic State (IS). The video was addressed to the “Mozambican Crusader Armies, Muslims and Christians and Jews” in the areas of Mozambique under IS control and announced that they will be forced to pay Jizya, a tax that Christians and Jews are required to pay as an alternative to converting to Islam. This statement has yet to elicit a response from either the Mozambican government in Maputo or the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SANIM), the regional peacekeeping mission in the province of Cabo Delgado.
These developments come following a report by an independent media outlet in Mozambique that a meeting of senior IS leaders took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on October 18. During this meeting, the group’s Mozambique leader Ibn Omar was reportedly told to stop killing civilians and to start charging them taxes. However, unlike other parts of Africa where Islamist groups have set up institutions capable of imposing such a tax, the IS in Mozambique is not believed to possess such a capacity at any significant level.
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This shift in strategy on the part of IS comes as regional actors in southern Africa increasingly turn to the United States for assistance with the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, which has yet to show any sign of abating. During a state visit to Washington DC in September, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly asked that the United States play a greater role in combating insurgents in the region. This was followed by a 30-day joint exercise between the US Special Operations Command and the Tanzanian military under the umbrella of Africa Command (AFRICOM), which wrapped up during the week of November 15. These exercises were meant to develop military-to-military contacts between the two countries while improving their joint readiness and interoperability: it is likely that future such exercises between the two countries are already in the works.
It now appears that the United States sees the situation in Cabo Delgado as worthy of a greater effort on its part. This is a positive development for the Mozambican Army, which was previously forced to rely on the use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) following the capture of the port of Pemba in 2020. With the Mozambican Army and its partners apparently possessing a greater ability to combat the insurgency, it appears that IS is adopting a new strategy, despite its apparent limited capacity to do so.
It remains too early to determine what impact this will have on the conflict, but it is likely about to enter a new phase. Although IS is apparently considering the adoption of a less violent strategy toward civilians in Cabo Delgado, its recent cross-border incursion into Tanzania signals that its militants remain focused on striking military targets in the region. What remains to be seen is whether the IS militants will be further constrained in targeting Tanzania and other regional actors as this conflict continues to shift moving forward.