Southern African nations approved on Wednesday the deployment of troops to Mozambique to help it combat an escalating Islamic State-linked insurgency that threatens stability in the relatively peaceful region.
The 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been grappling with how to respond to the conflict, which is concentrated in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. It began in October 2017 and thousands have died on all sides.
Almost 800,000 people have been displaced and the fighting has bought a $20 billion natural gas project led by oil giant Total to a grinding halt.
SADC has approved the deployment of its standby force to help “Mozambique to combat terrorism”, SADC executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said, reading out a communique following a meeting of the bloc’s leaders in Mozambique’s capital Maputo.
The standby force is part of a regional defence pact that allows military intervention to prevent the spread of conflict.
The communique provided no details on how many troops would be involved, when they would be deployed or what their role would be, adding only that humanitarian aid must be channelled to those most in need.
The decision ends months of deliberation and disagreement within the bloc about what is needed to stem an insurgency that threatens to open up southern Africa’s first jihadist front.
While some members, including South Africa, have pushed for military action, others have reportedly been more reticent.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi himself has traditionally been resistant to foreign boots on the ground.
“This is just the first step to a wider solution,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies
“This is the first time that… the SADC standby force has mobilised in a counter-terrorism operation which is not peacekeeping. It’s a situation that’s very complex,” she said, adding that the causes of the conflict would have to addressed.