FOLLOWING a recent military siege on the northern Mozambican town of Palma by Islamist insurgents, killing dozens, including a Zimbabwean, while leaving a trail of bloodshed and destruction in its wake, President Emmerson Mnangagwa deployed special forces to the gas-rich Cabo Delgado Province to battle the rampaging militants.
Security sources told The NewsHawks this week that Zimbabwe deployed combat special forces to help Mozambicans with the Palma “sweeping campaign” at the end of March, a week after the deadly attack.
“Zimbabwe sent some special forces team into Cabo Delgado in the aftermath of the siege on Palma by Islamic insurgents to help clear out the militants,” a security source said.
“Soon after the Palma attack, the special forces were deployed working 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, the subsequent bloodbath and also that there are Zimbabweans who are in there, one of them was actually killed.”
Zimbabwe’s deployment will be followed by a quick regional military manoeuvre under the Mozambican army. Sadc countries want a collective response to avoid being targeted by insurgents individually.
Mozambique prefers a strategic Sadc technical deployment to avoid inflaming the situation into a regional conflict and making the situation worse by drawing 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 next week to finalise the regional intervention in Mozambique ahead of 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 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 therefore 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 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 town, on March 24, 2021. 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 a Zimbabwean hospitality and catering worker, Nyasha Mugwagwa, was killed in Palma. The government, working with his family and the Mozambican authorities, are frantically trying engage a forensic pathologist to exhume his body and repatriate it home for reburial.
The sources said Zimbabwe sent special forces mainly drawn from One Commando Regiment (formerly One Commando Battalion, previously the Rhodesian Light Infantry), based at Cranborne Barracks in Harare and the Special Air Service.
The special forces deployed to Mozambique are more or less the size of a platoon, which usually has about four squads (of between seven and 14 troops each) up to 50 soldiers and is commanded by a lieutenant, the sources said.
The commando regiment is one of the special forces units in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces entrusted with difficult critical operations.
The role of the commandos and other special units is to conduct special operations – like 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 security 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 like in this case.”
Commandos are renowned for being mentally tough, quick-thinking and keeping a cool head in difficult and complex situations. They are highly trained and skilled in a range of advanced specialist weapons and equipment.
“Commandos operate in small units. For instance, each commando team can be a small group of four or five fighting troops, with a heavy weapons troop, and a signals platoon,” the source said.
“These soldiers are taken from trained troops for further training. The units are trained to conduct special activities, which include military manoeuvres conducted by specially designated, organised, trained, and equipped forces.”
In Zimbabwe, the selection process for special forces training includes four-day day and night navigation in the Zambezi Valley, while carrying a 30kg weight on an empty stomach.
Further, the training curriculum includes river crossing, mountain climbing, reconnaissance, anti-hijacking, sniping, unarmed combat, tracking and bush craft. 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 the Mozambique Civil War in the 1980s and 1990s and the Second Congo War from 1998-2002 for Zimbabwe.
The latest Zimbabwean deployment came a week prior to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) double troika summit in Maputo on 8 April, which authorised an “immediate technical deployment” into the conflict-ravaged Cabo Delgado region.
The double troika summit combined the Sadc main summit and the troika of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation summit.
It was attended by six regional leaders, including Sadc chair, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Sadc organ troika head, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Security ministers are meeting on 28 April to refine the roadmap for intervention in Mozambique, while security service chiefs are already working on a plan to send in the Sadc standby force.
Although Nyusi wants help, his government is opposed to foreign armies converging in Mozambique in large numbers as he fears that would trigger a regional conflict – drawing in more terrorists – and make the situation worse.
The insurgents have killed over 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, according to the Cabo Delgado weekly bulletin.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Colonel Teddy Ndlovu denied the army has deployed special forces to Mozambique.
“Thats not true and 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.”
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said: “Zimbabwe will take part as part of the Sadc brigade. The best person to ask would be (Sadc executive secretary) Dr (Stergomena) Tax.”