Tensions in Zimbabwe as army deploys crack teams

Edzai Chimonyo
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MILITARY commanders have deployed large numbers of officers from the Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps (ZIC), commonly known as military intelligence (MI), the elite Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) in communities throughout the country to gather intelligence as the rapidly deteriorating economy poses heightened risk to national security.

By Andrew Kunambura

The deployments come at a time situation reports (sitreps) generated by the security service indicate that there is low morale among the rank and file as a result of economic hardships and unfulfilled promises from the 2017 military coup which toppled president Robert Mugabe and propelled President Emmerson Mnangagwa to power.

Military sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that the troops, who are embedded in the communities, are also gauging Zanu PF support and Mnangagwa’s popularity.

The MI uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to assist commanders in their decisions. This is achieved through an assessment of data from a range of sources, directed towards the commanders’ mission requirements or responding to questions as part of operational or campaign planning.

The commanders’ information requirements are first identified before they are incorporated into intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.

Areas of study may include the operational environment, hostile, friendly and neutral forces as well as the civilian population in an area of interest.

“Information gathered is then used for scenario mapping or scenario planning. The information can be used to predict events, which means it can be used to prepare responses or contingent measures,” a security official said.

“For example, the information can be used to predict that riots are likely to break out if the economic situation continues to deteriorate, and so on. The fact that this is happening shows that the military is worried about the state of affairs.”

The SAS is a highly skilled special forces unit based at Kabrit Barracks along the Harare-Chitungwiza highway.It undertakes a number of roles, including covert investigations, counter-terrorism, direct action, hostage taking and hostage rescue.

It is the most highly trained military unit with cutting-edge expertise in weapon use, parachuting, skydiving and hijack reversal.

“Their deployment in large numbers suggests that the commanders are concerned,” a source said.The SIB is mainly used to conduct probes within the rank and file of the military as well as to carry out what a source described as “localised investigations within camps and in the cantonment proximity”. Each military unit has SIB members.

Security sources told the Independent this week that army commanders are panicking over the widespread apprehension in the country, owing to the deteriorating economic situation, characterised by skyrocketing prices, high cost of living and hyperinflation, which has rendered salaries worthless.

Commanders’ worst fear at the moment, sources said, is that the worsening hardships could trigger civil unrest.“Basically, they have been deployed into the communities to gather intelligence and gauge the national mood given the likelihood of civil unrest. So they have deeply embedded themselves in society and it is difficult to recognise them since they don’t wear army uniforms. In the case of the SAS, it includes relatively mature people with vast experience in intelligence gathering. They are highly trained and very efficient,” the official said.

“They can very easily blend into communities and the majority can speak all local languages and are familiar with diverse cultures. They can carry out covert operations for periods of up to 20 years. SAS is the best-trained in all military skills and they do a lot of covert operations. They are part of the elite forces together with commandoes and the parachute regiment.”

Besides deploying the special forces, the army has also embarked on large-scale internal surveillance of its officers amid concerns over rampant indiscipline and agitation among troops.

The internal surveillance, being undertaken by the MI and the military police, has been necessitated by growing disquiet within the rank and file of the military over the rising cost of living, poor salaries and difficult working conditions.

Commanders fear that there is a realistic possibility of mutiny if the situation is not urgently addressed.“The generals are worried that during this period of a deteriorating economic situation in the country, soldiers are in a desperate condition: ill-disciplined, disorganised, poorly fed and poverty stricken,” an officer in the army said.

Contacted for comment, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) spokesperson Overson Mugwisi said: “I am not aware of the said deployments. I need to find out from those responsible.”

To survive the hardships, an increasing number of soldiers have turned to money-spinning activities such as gold panning while others have turned to crime, including armed robbery and theft.

In November last year, ZNA commander Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo convened an emergency staff meeting where he read the riot act over rampant indiscipline, theft of rations and criminal activities involving soldiers.

The Independent has been consistently reporting on the rising tension in the military since the start of last year.The army’s Directorate of Signals has over the past 13 months been receiving alarming sitreps from various units, showing growing discontentment among the troops. Reports from the directorate show that morale has hit rock bottom.

At the height of economic turmoil in 2008, restless soldiers looted shops in Harare’s central business district as the country grappled with acute shortages of basic commodities. – The Zimbabwe Independent