The SADC waiting force will support Mozambique “to fight terrorism and acts of violent extremism” in Cabo Delgado province.
A bloc of South African countries has agreed to deploy troops to Mozambique to help it deal with a conflict that has escalated over the past three-and-a-half years by nearly 3,000 people and displaced nearly 800,000.
The 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc “approved” the deployment of the “SADC Standby Force in Support of Mozambique to Combat Terrorism and Acts of Violent Extremism” in Cabo Delgado, ”the blog’s executive secretary, Stergomena Tax, said at the end. of a one-day summit on Wednesday in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.
The waiting force is part of a regional defense pact that allows military intervention to prevent the spread of the conflict.
The statement after the meeting of the leaders of the bloc did not provide further details on how many troops would be involved, when they would be deployed or what their role would be, and added only that humanitarian aid should be channeled to those most in need.
The decision puts an end to months of deliberation and disagreement among the bloc over what is needed to curb violence.
While some members, such as South Africa, have pushed for military action, others were reported to be more reluctant. Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has historically been resistant to foreign boots on the ground.
Attacks by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab, whose origins, according to analysts, are full of local political, religious and economic discontent, have steadily increased in Cabo Delgado province since October 2017.
The sophistication of the attacks has also increased.
ISIL-linked fighters have looted cities and gained control of key roads, destroying infrastructure and beheading civilians. In some cases, they have forced locals into their ranks or kept them as sex slaves.
Since August 2020, fighters have controlled the key port city of Mocimboa da Praia, while in March they launched a coordinated assault on the city of Palma, killing dozens and forcing more than 67,000 to flee their homes.
The government has deployed thousands of troops to Cabo Delgado to fight the fighters, but analysts have long warned that Mozambique’s army has been historically weak, poorly trained and poorly equipped.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, who has widely covered Mozambique’s security crisis, said it was likely that participating countries would be able to do so, such as South Africa’s regional economic power or countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola that participated in other deployments in the past.
“What we know from this proposal that was suggested is that everything that the troops enter will help Mozambique. [by] perhaps patrolling the Indian Ocean coast and the border areas with Tanzania, where some of these insurgents are believed to have come from, ”Mutasa said, speaking from Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
The main question is whether these countries will have sufficient funds to make the deployment in Mozambique, he noted.
“In theory, all SADC bloc countries need to contribute to the waiting force, but economically many countries are having difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“The question now is when this deployment will take place, who will be the troops and in what exactly will they participate.”