Ministers of the Global Coalition against Daesh reaffirmed their determination to defeat terrorism not only in the Middle East but also in Africa. Although Daesh has lost almost all of its territory in Syria and Iraq, the terrorists are exerting growing force in Africa including in the Sahel, where France is winding down a military campaign, and in Mozambique.
The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda terror groups are still active despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of the Federal Security Service of Russia, Alexander Bortnikov, told. He warned the activity of armed units of IS and Al-Qaeda, and groups linked to them in the Middle East and on the African continent is still high, and the penetration of terrorists in Afghanistan and Southeast Asian countries is ongoing.
U.S. forces, through American intelligence agents, are training ISIS militants to use them in attacks against the Syrian and Russian armies, as well as communities and essential facilities. U.S. forces have moved a new group of ISIS militants from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prisons in Hassakeh to their bases in the rural south of the governorate. This operation is not the first of its kind in that region; rather, it appears to reflect that the group’s militants are fighting within SDF’s ranks.
A publicly available expert-level newsletter on Mozambique news reports and clippings from the middle of May predicts that France might launch a limited military intervention in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province in order to protect the offshore energy deposits of its national champion Total, which necessitates an analysis of such a move’s strategic consequences if it does indeed come to pass.
A Must-Read Report About Mozambique
The 16 May edition of the “Mozambique News Reports & Clippings” expert-level newsletter predicts that France might launch a limited military intervention in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province in order to protect the offshore energy deposits of its national champion Total that are threatened by a newfound insurgency that some have linked to ISIS. Editor Joseph Hanlon does an excellent job educating his audience about this scenario and it’s highly recommended that all interested readers review his work in full. What follows are some of the main points that he put forth in his newsletter in the order that they’re introduced:
* There’s a growing debate behind the scenes in Europe over whether France should receive an exclusive security corridor in northern Mozambique or if a Portuguese-led EU force should take the lead instead
* Whatever is ultimately decided upon, it’ll probably take at least two years before any visible progress is made on the ground against the insurgents/terrorists
* ISIS is likely to exploit the optics of a foreign military intervention in order to increase both its reported role in the combat as well as its international recruitment efforts
* Domestic political infighting in Mozambique and subsequent politicization of the conflict suggests that there won’t be any clear consensus on it until after the next presidential elections in 2025
* Influential international associations regard the offshore region of northern Mozambique as a conflict zone at risk of piracy and other threats, thereby raising insurance costs for ships operating in those waters
* Maritime security can either be achieved unilaterally by France or jointly through it, South Africa, India (which has a base in nearby Mauritius), and Mozambique carrying out patrols there
* France might replicate the Baghdad Green Zone model to protect energy-relevant localities in the northern Mozambican mainland through walls, barbed wire, drone surveillance of the area, and other such measures
* There’s talk that France might even take control of the nearby vacation resort island of Vamizi in order to base helicopters, attack and surveillance boats, and drone control systems there
* The other foreign military players to keep an eye on are Portugal, the US, Rwanda, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), EU, and private military contractors (PMCs, which France might also employ)
* Nevertheless, military intervention might not address the possible socio-economic and political roots of the conflict but only combat its terrorist manifestations, potentially creating another Mali, Somalia, or Libya
Hanlon’s points are all very important and should be deeply reflected upon by all interested readers. Building upon his implied prediction that France is the most likely party to take the lead in this growing conflict, it therefore follows that one should conduct an analysis of the strategic consequences of such a move if it indeed comes to pass. France is regarded as Africa’s military hegemon despite being located in Europe due to the commanding influence that it wields in its former colonies that are commonly referred to as “Françafrique”. Mozambique, however, lays outside of France’s traditional “sphere of influence” in Africa.
Paris’ interest in the country stems from its vast offshore energy reserves that national champion Total planned to develop before the conflict erupted a few years back. These resources were initially expected to be a game-changer for the Mozambican people who remain among the world’s poorest. Regrettably, large-scale international corruption scandals in recent years ruined the ruling Frelimo party’s reputation and it’s now widely feared that these hydrocarbon riches probably won’t end up making much of a difference for the average Mozambican at the end of the day.
Even so, they’re significant enough of a find to have a powerful impact on the industry upon their future development, which adds a conspiratorial dimension of sorts to the conflict since some have speculated that foreign forces might be backing the insurgency/terrorism so as to delay those projects’ completion. In any case, it doesn’t seem like they’ll come online anytime soon considering the worsening intensity of the violence there, hence the reason why Paris is contemplating a military intervention in order to save its national champion’s investment.
Indian Ocean Region Conflicts
Observers should take note of Mozambique’s geostrategic location astride the southwestern reaches of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that’s nowadays considered to be the world’s most important body of water as all 21st-century processes increasingly converge there. Although Mozambique isn’t located near any European-Asian trade routes, it still sits near the French islands of Mayotte and Réunion. This convenience could facilitate any prospective French military intervention, which in that scenario would mark the country’s participation in its first IOR conflict.
At the moment, the IOR is the scene of four armed conflicts – northern Mozambique, Somalia, Yemen, and Myanmar. The first two are closer in essence than the others, ergo Hanlon’s earlier mentioned fear of the former transforming into a variation of the latter with time. Both also count ISIS among the warring parties, albeit to questionable extents in each. For this reason, any French military intervention would be an energy-driven spiritual expansion of its ongoing Operation Barkhane mission in the Sahel that’s been launched on an anti-terrorist basis despite having ulterior interests as well such as stopping large-scale immigration to the EU.
The Franco-Indian Strategic Partnership
Seeing as how India considers the entire IOR to lay within its envisioned “sphere of influence” despite presently lacking the military capabilities to exert hard power all throughout this domain, it’s possible that New Delhi might consider playing a minimal role in the conflict even if only for prestige’s sake. This explains why Hanlon brought up the country’s naval base in Mauritius’ North Agalega island. Most realistically, India could carry out highly publicized joint anti-piracy missions, perhaps even emphasizing any partnered role with nearby South Africa so as to portray it a a partial BRICS operation in order to deflect criticism of following France’s lead.
On the topic of Franco-Indian relations, the two Great Powers signed a military logistics pact in 2018 which enables them to use one another’s bases. Many at the time thought that this might see India expanding its naval presence in the Horn of Africa via France’s outpost in its former colony of Djibouti or perhaps paying more frequent visits to the French islands of the South Pacific to support Australia’s reassertion of traditional influence there against China. It now appears possible that the Southeast African country of Mozambique might be where the French-Indian military partnership first “cuts its teeth” so to speak.
From the French perspective, the primary mission is to secure Total’s investments. All other objectives are secondary and perhaps even beyond its intentions to tackle. This means that France might easily succeed with its actual mission but fail in the soft power realm if it isn’t as forthcoming with its true intentions and instead clothes its intervention in anti-terrorist rhetoric similar to its Sahel mission. In other words, even if France “wins” what it wants, it might still “lose” in the eyes of the world unless it engages in the dangerous trend of “mission creep” to expand its military “sphere of influence” there to ultimately stop the insurgency/terrorism.
France probably wouldn’t take that step unilaterally, which is why it’s more likely to expect that it’ll lead a multinational force whether on its own or perhaps in joint partnership with fellow EU-member and Mozambique’s former colonizer Portugal together with a formidable army of PMCs. Even so, since neither of them have the primary mission of stopping the insurgency/terrorism, they might not make much progress right away, instead relying more on PMCs and the Mozambican military to do such “dirty” and highly dangerous work for them though of course under their supervision.
With this in mind, one needs to consider how this mission would be sold to the rest of the world. The anti-terrorist angle is the most obvious one, but as mentioned, France’s interests in this respect aren’t all that sincere, nor for that matter are Portugal’s, since their involvement is really all about energy geopolitics, as is every foreign party’s as well. Presenting it in such a way also leads to high expectations for visible progress on the ground, which likely won’t be forthcoming anytime soon especially considering that it’s heavily forested terrain and France can’t even succeed in stopping insurgency/terrorism in the barren Sahel.
It might therefore end up being that they hype up their intent to “contain” the military threat instead of outright stop it. This would lead to more realistic expectations than talking about completely wiping out the insurgents/terrorists and appear as less selfish than being transparent about the true energy motivations. It would also engender wider support, perhaps even among domestic critics in those two EU countries and more broadly in the West since it’s veritably a virtuous mission (at least on the surface) to want to stop the spread of such threats into Tanzania and elsewhere.
To wrap it all up, France doesn’t appear to have many expected costs associated with its possible military intervention in northern Mozambique while standing to gain quite a lot in terms of energy interests and Great Power prestige, especially if it leads a multinational force in this conflict. Presenting its mission in terms of “containing” insurgency/terrorist threats instead of intending to completely wipe them out (at least right away) would also temper expectations and increase international appeal, including among India and South Africa who might participate in joint anti-piracy missions. For these reasons, Hanlon’s general prediction is very credible.
The United States is working to increase humanitarian assistance in Mozambique in response to the devastating violence by ISIS-Mozambique in Cabo Delgado province. The United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Mozambique.
French energy company Total halted operations on its $20 billion investment in a liquefied natural gas project in northern Mozambique after ISIS attacks and repeated rebel insurgency. The US sent 12 special forces officers to help train Mozambique’s military, and the EU is considering sending a military training mission.
Many observers missed the US’ designation in early March of Mozambique’s “Al Shabaab” as an ISIS-affiliated global terrorist organization and its subsequent dispatch of roughly a dozen Green Berets to the country to aid the national military in its counter-terrorist operations, but this development signals that the Southern African state has importantly become the newest front in America’s “Global War On Terror”.
The US’ newest front in its “Global War On Terror” has officially opened in the Southern African state of Mozambique following the State Department’s designation in early March of the country’s “Al Shabaab” as an ISIS-affiliated global terrorist organization and the subsequent dispatch of roughly a dozen Green Berets there to aid the national military in its counter-terrorist operations. Many observers missed these developments, perhaps because they were too busy paying attention to the latest twists and turns of what I describe as WorldWarC, or the world’s uncoordinated attempt to contain COVID-19 which catalyzed full-spectrum paradigm-changing processes across every sphere of life. I warned last September that “Mozambique Might Require Foreign Military Assistance To Clean Up Its Hybrid War Mess” after it became clear that the country couldn’t tackle this pressing task on its own, nor were its previously reported private military contractor (PMC) partners able to sufficiently assist it to this end. That prediction ultimately came to pass in March.
American interests in Southern Africa are varied, but they share the common objective of pushing back against regional multipolar trends, particularly China’s rising influence there. In the Mozambican case, the country stands the chance of becoming one of the world’s top LNG exporters in the future should its vast northern offshore gas deposits that are uncoincidentally in close proximity to the current terrorist-afflicted zone be fully tapped. There had hitherto been some serious concerns on the US’ part that Chinese influence in Mozambique could indirectly shape the global energy industry, as well as facilitate Beijing’s efforts to more closely connect the landlocked countries beyond to its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) through trans-Mozambican commercial corridors. These fears are now somewhat more manageable as the US expands its own influence in the country through its close military cooperation with its partner’s armed forces for the purpose of jointly defeating this newly designated ISIS affiliate.
History attests, however, that the US’ motives aren’t ever truly benign and that it always takes advantage of anti-terrorist pretexts in order to pursue ulterior objectives. The evolving anti-terrorist situation in Mozambique is no exception since it deserves mention that the earlier cited State Department designation also imposed the same label on the anti-Ugandan “Allied Democratic Forces” (ADF) that have been operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for a few decades already. That group is responsible for carrying out large-scale killings and other acts of terrorism, and its pairing with Mozambique’s “Al Shabaab” as part of ISIS’ larger “Central African Province” proxy network creates the pretext for the US to turn the entire Central-Eastern-Southern African theater into the latest front of its more comprehensive anti-terrorist operations should the Pentagon have the political will to exploit the situation to this end. Once again, the true objective would be to roll back China’s rising influence in this strategic space.
To be absolutely clear, genuine terrorist groups – especially those connected to ISIS – must be thwarted at all costs lest they continue carrying out greater acts of carnage and thus catalyze an uncontrollable chain reaction of destabilization that ultimately risks turning this transregional space into a black hole of chaos similar in a sense to what previously happened in parts of the West Asia (especially along the Syrian-Iraqi border) and is currently unfolding in West Africa. That said, while anti-terrorist cooperation with the US might achieve short-term military goals for America’s partners such as Mozambique, it might eventually be against their long-term strategic interests if the US exploits its “military diplomacy” over these increasingly desperate governments to impose political strings to continued security cooperation upon which those states might soon become dependent. In a perfect world, no such fears would credibly exist, but as previously mentioned, history proves that these concerns are completely founded by established precedent.
With this in mind, the ideal solution would be if terrorist-afflicted states didn’t have to rely on the US for anti-terrorist assistance, but the reality is that they seem to have little choice. China doesn’t partake in anti-terrorist operations abroad though it does train some of its BRI partners’ military forces, presumably also sharing its own domestic anti-terrorist experiences in the process. As for Russia, it’s developing bespoke “Democratic Security” solutions (counter-HybridWarfare tactics and strategies) for GlobalSouth states such as the CentralAfricanRepublic, the Congo Republic, and most recently Togo, but its model is still far from perfect and thus requires plenty of improvements before such services are exported more broadly. This difficult state of strategic affairs compelled Mozambique to eventually request the US’ anti-terrorist assistance as its Hybrid War mess in Cabo Delgado Province spiraled out of control over the past few years, though it remains to be seen exactly what political strings America will attach to its continued security support in this respect.
ISIS attack on Mozambique last weekend raises prospect of greater US involvement in the African country. The US is in discussions with other countries in the area worried that the extremist threat could spill over, especially following ISIS incursions from Mozambique into Tanzania last year.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is looking to keep the U.S. troops in Afghanistan past May 1 deadline while exploring a deal in which the Taliban would allow a U.S. counter-terrorism force to remain as they confront their Islamic State foes. The Taliban has been fighting Islamic State’s local affiliate, and the U.S. airstrikes on ISIS have proved critical to helping them rout their rivals.