US, Portugal send special forces to Mozambique
A week after the US State Department added the Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations," the Pentagon is now preparing to send a team of military advisors into the conflict zone. The US Embassy in Maputo announced March 15 that the two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program will see US Special Forces troops instructing Mozambican marines. This follows an announcement weeks ealier by Portugal, the former colonial power in Mozambique, that it is dispatching an elite military unit to help fight the insurgents, known locally as the Shabaab. Lisbon is also petitioning the European Union to send an international military mission to the region to back up the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM).
The fighting in Cabo Delgado province is fast becoming a world-scale humanitarian crisis, with 670,000 people now displaced, and a further 2,600 killed over the past year. The Shabaab have taken control of several villages and towns, including the port of Mocimboa da Praia. These seizures of territory have seen general massacres of the inhabitants. Children as young as 11 have been beheaded by the militants, aid agency Save the Children says in a new report. FADM soldiers have also committed atrocities against the civil population, Amnesty International stated in a report issued in September.
However, for foreign powers, the conflict appeared to reach a turning point at the end of December, when the Shabaab carried out attacks for the first time just a few kilometers from a multibillion-euro gas project operated by the French oil company Total. The liquefied natural gas facility at Afungi was forced to suspend operations. The insurgency erupted last year just after some of the world's biggest oil and gas reserves were discovered in Cabo Delgado. (DefenceWeb, South Africa, Atalayar, Madrid, AfricaNews, Thomson Reuters, NYT, AP)