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07/25/2023 Mozambique (International Christian Concern) – The presidential victory speeches from the Mozambican and Rwandan presidents aimed to highlight the successes of the ongoing counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign in northeastern Mozambique.

An international effort including Rwanda and member nations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) formed a security and humanitarian coalition in 2021 to defeat the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. The United States and European Union have also sent military advisors. 

The Islamic extremist group known as Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa (ASWJ) has waged an insurgency in Cabo Delgado province since late 2017, causing 4,683 deaths (nearly half of which are civilians) and displacing around one million persons. The ASWJ insurgency is also referred to as ISIS-Mozambique (ISIS-M), after an official ISIS media outlet referred to ASWJ as an affiliate in 2019. Insurgents captured the port of Mocimboa da Praia in August 2020, holding it for a year, and besieged the town of Palma in March 2021, causing the suspension of the multinational liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado. 

In May 2023, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi asserted that the counterinsurgency campaign had controlled the security situation such that normal activity could resume. In June 2023, Rwandan President Paul Kagame claimed that “80 percent of the problem has been addressed.”  

Likewise, the Mozambican minister of defense stated that security forces had already achieved the “immediate” objective of liberating the insurgent-held areas and “create basic conditions for the return of the population,” albeit acknowledging that total victory remained elusive. 

The statements above are aimed at restoring the multinational liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado that halted in response to the insurgent threat. The French energy company TotalEnergies declared force majeure in April 2021, effectively suspending the $20 billion (USD) LNG project—one of the largest private investments in Africa to date. In April 2023, TotalEnergies spoke to the conditions for restoration, citing positive control of the security and humanitarian situation. 

Some analysts assess that the conditions for recruitment and radicalization to Salafi jihadism (the ideology of ISIS and its affiliates) remain, enabling the insurgency to continue despite the current successes of the COIN campaign.  

Recent developments, including an ASWJ attack that killed at least eight members of the Mozambican security forces (FADM) and allegations of abuse of the civilian population by security forces, suggest that the insurgency still poses a latent threat.  

Christianity is the most popular religion in Mozambique, and religious freedom is protected by the country’s constitution. Still, ISIS-affiliated attacks are known to occur against Christians. 

The international coalition has achieved its military objectives, but the Mozambican government is unlikely to defeat the insurgency without a cohesive political and military strategy that integrates population-centric and enemy-centric warfare.