Following the recent military siege on the Mozambican northern town of Palma by Islamic State-linked insurgents who have killed dozens of people, including a Zimbabwean and a South African, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is said to have deployed special forces to the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province.
Security sources told The NewsHawks this week that Zimbabwe deployed special combat forces to help Mozambicans with the Palma “sweeping campaign” at the end of last month, a week after the deadly attack.
“Zimbabwe sent a special forces team into Cabo Delgado in the aftermath of the siege on Palma by Islamist insurgents to help clear out the militants,” a security source said.
“Soon after the Palma attack, the special forces were deployed under the Mozambican army to help drive out the militants. They had to go in because of the surprise attack, which marked a serious escalation [and] subsequent bloodbath. Also, there are Zimbabweans who are in there; one of them was actually killed.”
Zimbabwe’s deployment will soon be followed by a quick regional military manoeuvre under the Mozambican army.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, including South Africa, want a collective response, to avoid being individually targeted by insurgents.
Mozambique prefers a strategic SADC technical deployment to stop the situation from blowing up into a regional conflict that will draw in more terrorists from outside.
This comes as SADC defence ministers from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe – which form the troika of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation – are due to meet on Wednesday to finalise the regional intervention in Mozambique ahead of the troika leaders’ summit the following day.
Addressing a Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday in Harare, Mnangagwa sounded belligerent and ready for action – a further sign that Zimbabwe was already on the ground.
“As Zanu-PF, we stand in solidarity with our sister party Frelimo, as well as the government and people of the republic of Mozambique in the wake of the ongoing disturbances in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. United we stand, hence we cannot sit back and allow acts of insurgency to continue without a robust regional response.
“Last week, I attended the SADC double troika summit in Mozambique, where the regional bloc resolved to immediately make technical deployments towards restoring peace and stability,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying by the state-controlled daily newspaper The Herald.
“Government is currently working with the Mozambican authorities to establish the number of our nationals who were entrapped during the attack of Palma on March 24.
“Against this disturbing background, the party structures across all provinces must ensure that our communities are on high security alert. Let us continue to jealously guard the peace and stability that is existing in our country.”
It was confirmed this week that Zimbabwean hospitality and catering worker Nyasha Mugwagwa was beheaded in Palma.
The Zimbabwean government, working with his family and Mozambican authorities, is frantically trying to engage a forensic pathologist to exhume his body and repatriate it for reburial.
Sources say Zimbabwe sent special forces mainly drawn from its One Commando Regiment (formerly the One Commando Battalion and previously the Rhodesian Light Infantry), which is based at Cranborne Barracks in Harare, as well as the Special Air Service, based at Kabrit Barracks, adjacent to the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.
The sources said the special forces deployed are more or less the size of a platoon – which usually has about four squads (each made up of seven troops) and has up to 50 soldiers commanded by a lieutenant.
The commando regiment is one of the special forces units in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces trusted with difficult critical operations. The role of commandos and other special units is to conduct special operations – such as the sweeping of Palma – across an operating continuum, typically expeditionary in nature.
“The commandos usually operate either as an independent force element or in support of joint manoeuvres for the conduct of advanced force operations or precision strike missions. In this case, Zimbabwean special forces will operate under the aegis of the Mozambican army,” a source said.
“They can operate on their own as they are trained to exceptionally high levels both physically and psychologically, and are expected to perform accordingly, but there are political and operational factors that come into play in this case.”
Commandos are renowned for being quick-thinking and mentally tough, and able to keep cool heads in difficult and complex situations. They are highly trained and skilled in a range of advanced specialist weapons and equipment.
In Zimbabwe, the selection process for special forces training includes a four-day and four-night navigation of the Zambezi Valley while carrying a 30kg weight on an empty stomach.
Furthermore, the training curriculum includes river crossing, mountain climbing, reconnaissance, anti-hijacking, sniping, unarmed combat, tracking and bushcraft.
Also included is jungle survival on wild fruits and natural remedies for medical treatment.
The special forces have been deployed in several African conflicts, including during the Mozambican Civil War in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Second Congo War from 1998 to 2002.
Security ministers are meeting on April 28 to refine the road map for intervention in Mozambique, while security service chiefs are already working on a plan to send in the SADC standby force.
Although Mozambiquean President Filipe Nyusi wants help, his government is opposed to foreign military armies converging in the country in large numbers as it fears that doing so could trigger a regional conflict.
The insurgents have killed more than 2 000 people and displaced more than 750 000.
Even with clashes from the actual battle for Palma over, insecurity in the town continued this week.
Meanwhile, according to the Cabo Delgado Weekly, Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Colonel Teddy Ndlovu denied that the army had deployed special forces to Mozambique.
“That’s not true. In any case, if something like that happens, I will advise the nation. You can’t hide that kind of information.
“I advise that you also look at the SADC deployment schedules so that you know the meetings that need to take place and what needs to happen before deployment.”
But security sources said Zimbabwe’s deployment of special forces to Mozambique was beyond doubt.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said: “Zimbabwe will take part as part of the SADC brigade. The best person to ask would be [SADC executive secretary Stergomena] Tax.”