JOHANNESBURG -- A summit of southern African leaders has agreed to send a regional military force to Mozambique to help the country battle its growing crisis caused by a jihadi insurgency.
Leaders of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community agreed Wednesday to deploy a military force to help the Mozambican government “combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism.”
The Islamic extremists' violent campaign in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado has caused a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis. The jihadi violence is blamed for the deaths of more than 2,000 people and has caused more than 700,000 to flee their homes.
The brief statement, issued after a summit in Mozambique's capital of Maputo, did not give details on the size of the force or when troops would be sent. Earlier this year military experts from the group recommended that the regional body send in about 3,000 soldiers, with arms, helicopters, airplanes and naval capacity.
The statement also urged that humanitarian assistance be given in northern Mozambique where nearly 1 million people need food aid, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Mozambique will establish a headquarters in the northern port city of Nacala for the regional force, said the statement.
The insurgency in northern Mozambique started in Cabo Delgado province in 2017 and has grown rapidly in the past year. The rebels have held the port of Mocimboa da Praia since August last year. And they have repeatedly attacked the strategic center of Palma, forcing the French energy firm Total to suspend its $20 billion liquified natural gas project.
The short statement from the summit left many questions unanswered, said analysts.
“There is a lot of uncertainty still as to the size of the regional force and what will be its operating mandate,” said Dino Mahtani, deputy director of the International Crisis Group's Africa program. “Mozambican authorities have expressed hesitancy about having regional boots on the ground, so it is not certain how this will be implemented.”
The statement is an important acknowledgment by the Southern African Development Community that the conflict in northern Mozambique warrants a regional military intervention, said Jasmine Opperman, an analyst on African extremism.
“There are no details, so we should not expect a quick deployment,” said Opperman.
“It is not clear how Mozambique will integrate a regional force into its operations in Cabo Delgado. And SADC should not underestimate the insurgents," she said.
“Such a military intervention alone will not resolve the insurgency. It may be able to help achieve stability and security in northern Mozambique and that will help Mozambique address the humanitarian situation which is dire,” she added. "And Mozambique must reestablish effective governance in Cabo Delgado because that has been missing for four years.”