Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado: Hard lessons from Afghanistan

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

The spectacular collapse of the US-backed Afghan regime on Sunday, culminating in the Taliban seizing power in Kabul, dazed the world. The rapidity of the Taliban military advance was even more astounding.

By Kelvin Jakachira

The Taliban have now declared an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, stoking fears of retribution, which resulted in hordes of panic-stricken Afghan nationals, Western diplomatic staff, and aid workers storming the airport in desperate attempts to escape Afghanistan.

The footage of three Afghan nationals falling to their certain deaths from an airborne US military jet was heart-rending. Other Afghans died in the ensuing chaos and stampede. While this was happening, the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, was fleeing with four cars and a helicopter full of cash, and had to leave some of the money behind as it could not all fit in.

Questions are now being asked about how the Afghan military capitulated so quickly despite years of US investment in military training and heavy arsenal.

The US spent between $934 billion and $978 billion on building the Afghan army. Up to $145 billion was invested in trying to rebuild Afghanistan itself as a country, while $9 billion was spent on fighting Afghanistan’s opium and heroin trade. These figures do not include money spent by other American agencies such as the CIA.

Even with this massive investment, the Afghan army was effectively overrun in a matter of weeks, and in many instances its commanders embarrassingly surrendered in a matter of hours without a fight.

Expressing his frustration with the fallen Afghan administration, and defending the US decision to pull out of Afghanistan, the American president, Joe Biden, blamed the Taliban’s takeover on the unwillingness of the Afghan army to fight the militant group. The Afghan army was also poorly-led and riddled with corruption.

How the Taliban, which had 80,000 troops in comparison with over 300,000 soldiers in the Afghan army, easily overwhelmed the government forces raised questions.

War experts say it was a tale of two armies, one poorly-equipped but highly motivated ideologically, and the other well-equipped but dependent on US-led NATO support.

Events in Afghanistan are a wake-up call for the international community, particularly, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda, which are leading efforts to shore up the Mozambican military to combat an Islamic insurgency, known as Al Shabaab.

The militants in Mozambique, to a large extent, share the same social and political ideologies with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Before Rwanda’s intervention, the Mozambican army was on the back foot.

Its soldiers were fleeing the warfront and abandoning their equipment once they got in contact with the militants.  In the process, the government soldiers left civilians to the mercy of the callous insurgents.

Consequently, many civilians were killed, some through beheading, while several hundreds of thousands were displaced. The insurgents captured territory and disrupted a US$20-billion gas investment project by the French petroleum giant, Total.

Enter the Rwandan Defence Forces. The Islamic insurgents are now on the run.

The Rwandans have helped Mozambique reclaim lost territory, with rapidity.

SADC member states, Botswana and South Africa, have also deployed in the Cabo Delgado region, with Zimbabwe and Angola providing military instructors to strengthen the capacity of the Mozambican military force.

The European Union and Portugal have done the same. With the successful operations against the terrorists, Mozambican families have now started to return to their homes and communities a few days after the capture of the strategic port city of Mocimboa da Praia from the notorious terrorist group. This is commendable.

But is the Mozambican military able to withstand the militants once the mighty force of the Rwandan military is pulled out of combat? What is clear like day is that one day Rwanda and its SADC allies will, just like what the US-led mission in Afghanistan did, pull out of northern Mozambique and leave the security responsibility to Maputo.

Frank Gardner, the experienced BBC war and security correspondent, warned months ago how tactical military victories over the Taliban by the US and its NATO allies were undone the moment corrupt Afghan security officials took over.

“The same will happen in Mozambique if the coming military effort is not backed up by a marked improvement in civil affairs,” Gardner wrote. “

Just like in Afghanistan, where the multi-billion-dollar programme of training Afghans proved hopeless, there are genuine fears that the same could happen in Mozambique once its allies pull their forces.

Like the fallen Afghan army, there are reports suggesting that the Mozambican security sector is so corrupt that it is unable to effectively protect civilians and infrastructure without outside help.

A recent report by Transparency International pointed out that corruption, organised crime, and governance issues, particularly in the security sector, land management, the justice sector and extractive industries, stoked grievances that fuelled the conflict in northern Mozambique.

According to the report, the links between crime and state in Mozambique continue to exist and, in practice, individuals within the Mozambican government continue to provide drug traffickers with protection in return for payments.

Experts say the discovery of large gas and oil reserves in the region exacerbated levels of corruption, resulting in resentment by local communities that did not benefit from the natural resources.

Asked by Rwanda journalist, James Karuhanga, who is in Cabo Delgado, on the way forward after the capture of the strategic territories, the Rwandan Defence Force spokesperson, Colonel Ronald Rwivanga, said the next step would be to consolidate the gains by establishing state authority, “so state systems will start to operate, hopefully we shall ensure that this is sustained, in the long run”.

Colonel Rwivanga is spot-on but the authorities in Maputo must also play their role in ensuring that their army is corruption free. Mozambique urgently needs a disciplined and strong army that will effectively play its constitutional function of defending the country’s territorial integrity. Mozambique should not cry foul when their current partners bid farewell because it’s inevitable.

It is time for Mozambique to capitalise on the current military gains to ensure that the forgotten region of Cabo Delgado is developed and opportunities are availed to young people who see much of the benefits from the natural resources in the area heading to Maputo, 1,600 kilometers away. Maputo should also use this as an opportunity to start dialogues with civilians in areas that have been liberated and soothe tensions and rebuild trust with communities who feel let down by the authorities in Maputo.

Otherwise, like the Taliban did 20 years after being defeated by a US-led mission, the militants in northern Mozambique will re-emerge and wreak havoc again. – Business Times

%d bloggers like this: