Rwandan troops deployed last month to help Mozambique’s army fight jihadists said on Sunday they had recaptured control of the main northern port of Mocimboa da Praia from the extremist militants.
“The port city of Mocimboa da Praia, a major stronghold of the insurgency for more than two years, has been occupied by Rwandan and Mozambican security forces,” the Rwandan armed forces said in a tweet.
Force spokesman Colonel Ronald Rwivanga confirmed this to AFP, saying “yes (Mocimboa da Praia) has fallen”.
The port city, from which the first Islamist attacks were carried out in October 2017, has since last year become the de facto headquarters of Islamic State-affiliated extremists, locally referred to as Al-Shabab.
Mocimboa da Praia “was the last stronghold of the insurgents and marked the end of the first phase of operations against the insurgency driving the insurgents from the stronghold,” Rwivanga said in a text message.
Rwanda sent 1,000 troops last month to bolster Mozambican forces struggling to regain control of the northern province of Cabo Delgado, home to one of Africa’s largest liquefied natural gas projects.
The troops last week claimed their first success since their deployment, saying they had helped the Mozambican army regain control of Awasse – a small but strategic settlement near Mocimboa da Praia.
“We will continue security operations to fully pacify those areas and allow Mozambican and Rwandan troops to conduct stabilization operations as[the displaced]return home and business continues,” Rwivanga added.
The Rwandan troops were deployed on July 9 following an April visit to Kigali by Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi.
They were followed weeks later by troops from neighboring countries, deployed under the auspices of the 16-strong regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Botswana became the first SADC country to send boots on July 26, deploying 296 soldiers. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, chairman of SADC’s defense and security arm, has spoken out on the urgent need for regional stability.
South Africa’s regional power and immediate neighbor announced on July 28 that it would deploy 1,495 soldiers.
A day later, Zimbabwe unveiled plans to send 304 non-combat soldiers to train Mozambique’s infantry battalions.
Angola subsequently deployed 20 specialized military air force personnel, while Namibia will contribute N$5.8 million (about $400,000) to the offensive against the insurgency.
Masisi and Nyusi formally launch the SADC mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) in Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, on Monday.
Aid to smoke out the insurgents has accelerated in recent weeks.
The European Union formally established a military mission to Mozambique on July 12 to help train the armed forces fighting the jihadists.
Former colonial ruler Portugal is already training Mozambican troops, and Lisbon’s military instructors are expected to make up half of the new EU mission.