Private anti-poachers recruited to fight in Mozambique’s terrorist hot spot

Mozambique hits backs at growing number of terror attacks

For years, the African nation of Mozambique has been beleaguered by local Islamic terror attacks in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. But in recent months, as the threat has become more organized, there has been at least one silver lining: anti-poachers working to save the region.

According to The Telegraph, Angolan civil war veterans-turned-anti-poachers have flown in on helicopters to fight ISIS-affiliated militants in the terror-plagued north. Around February, as the situation spiraled, a frustrated Mozambican government recruited a Rhodesian army colonel named Duck, who then hired a band of snipers known for gunning down poachers in the region.

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In one incident that hit headlines in April, the team lost a helicopter in the fighting, but was heralded for saving land and people.

An aerial shot shows widespread destruction caused by Cyclone Kenneth when it struck Ibo island north of Pemba city in Mozambique, May, 1, 2019.  (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

An aerial shot shows widespread destruction caused by Cyclone Kenneth when it struck Ibo island north of Pemba city in Mozambique, May, 1, 2019.  (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

For almost three years, the terrorist outfit – namely the Islamic State of Central African Province (ISCAP), although numerous others including Al Sunnah wa Jama'ah and al-Qaeda also claimed responsibility – has cemented its footprint in the African country, deemed the tenth most impoverished in the world by Concern USA.

Hoisting their infamous black flags, the insurgents routinely seize small villages and carry out mass beheadings and kidnappings, in addition to recruiting impoverished and disenfranchised youth.

Mozambique is a cause of growing concern, as ISIS and other groups mobilize and acquire more advanced technology and bolster fighter numbers in the largely unchecked pocket.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project highlights that the three-year uprising has become more deadly – claiming the lives of 450 in the first half of 2020 alone, compared to 660 deaths and 309 attacks in 2019. In addition to woes that it could serve as the next sanctuary for extremists, security experts worry that the unrest could destabilize the broader region and spill over into South Africa.

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Since 2017, the U.N. has estimated that more than 1,300 have died in the insurgency, which has displaced another 21,000.

A World Food Program helicopter takes off, in Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

A World Food Program helicopter takes off, in Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

ISIS, via its media wing, cautioned that if South Africa sends in troops to assist its neighbors, it would "open the fighting front" in response. Zimbabwe and Tanzania already have sent their own troops in, either to assist in border protection or in training Mozambique soldiers to protect their own interests. But much of the broader international concern centers around the country's extensive $60 billion offshore gas infrastructure development near Cabo Delgado and the Tanzania border.

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While the ISIS affiliate has yet to target Africa's largest gas reserves, which were discovered in 2011, it cautioned that "crusader oil companies" are "risking their investment."

The United States has no formal military presence in Mozambique, but as Defense One underscores, Russia has a quiet but potent footprint. It has deployed state-sponsored contractors, including Wagner mercenaries, to guarantee its stake in the natural resources.