Brief: Can Mozambique Keep Cabo Delgado Secure from Islamic State Fighters?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 2

Mozambican army commander Major General Nampele. (Source: News24)

Executive Summary

  • The Mozambican army has declared the Islamic State affiliate active in its country effectively “defeated,” with only 200 to 250 active fighters remaining.
  • While Islamic State in Mozambique may be significantly degraded, it could capitalize upon the planned withdrawal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in July 2024, leaving behind only the Mozambican and Rwandan armies to fight the jihadist group.

In January 2022, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) extended the mandate of its troop deployment in Mozambique to combat Islamic State’s affiliate in the country. At the time, the group identified as an offshoot of Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP) (Al Jazeera, January 12, 2022). Since then, the Mozambican wing of ISCAP has rebranded itself as Islamic State in Mozambique Province and, therefore, separated from its former partner in the Congo. The two factions had disagreements over funding and communications to Islamic State (IS) itself. These may have hampered the Mozambican jihadists and allowed SADC and the country’s army to gain momentum in their counter-insurgency efforts.

IS in Mozambique has conducted several major attacks in recent months. On September 25, for example, the group killed 11 Christians in a small village. Places like these offer IS in Mozambique a soft target to attack. Such a strategy allows the group’s fighters to avoid clashing with national and regional security forces while at the same time furthering domestic and international anti-Christian narratives (, September 25, 2023). The pace of overall IS attacks in Mozambique nonetheless has not matched the group’s peak in 2021, when they were able to take over Palma in Cabo Delgado and force the closure of major energy facilities. IS in Mozambique’s seizure of Palma involved the temporary occupation of an energy plant and the killing of several expatriate workers (France24, March 29, 2021). In December 2023, by contrast, IS claimed just one attack on a military post in Ngori, which is in northern Mozambique. Even so, the group issued four claims and a video about the same attack, indicating that the group had little else to boast about in IS’s social media ecosystem (X/@Emorier, December 13, 2023).

The army has declared that IS in Mozambique is “defeated” (News24, December 21, 2023). This resembles in many ways the Nigerian government’s premature declarations that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” in 2015 (see Terrorism Monitor, February 9, 2023; Vanguard [Nigeria], November 23, 2018), which was disproven shortly after. Consistent with the former’s claim of victory is the assertion by Mozambique Defence Forces Commander Tiago Alberto Nampele that IS fighters have lost more than 90 percent of the territory they formerly controlled in northern Mozambique. Allegedly, the group has only 200 to 250 active fighters remaining (Independent Online [South Africa], December 21). Even if this confidence is accurate at present, it could prove to be misplaced, should the jihadists succeed in capitalizing on the planned SADC withdrawal in July 2024 (Club of Mozambique, July 14, 2023). This timeline had been established in July 2023, and was reaffirmed the following December (Correio da Manhã [Portugal], December 22, 2023).

Should the SADC withdraw, it would leave the burden of counter-insurgency to the Mozambican forces and their Rwandan allies. Beyond providing security for the country’s citizens, the Mozambican military’s ability to keep IS on the run has major implications for the country’s economy. TotalEnergies, which halted operations at its LNG facility in Palma in 2021, is planning to restart the facility in early 2024, which would bring needed revenues to the state (Offshore Technology, May 24, 2023). Other countries, such as Japan and India, are planning significant investments into Mozambique’s LNG resources (Swarjya [India], October 30, 2023; Argus Media, November 28, 2023). In this way, it remains possible that there will be various non-SADC international actors willing to support Mozambique’s counter-terrorism efforts on the basis of their own economic, humanitarian, and security interests.

View this post on Substack!