By the Numbers: Cabo Delgado, October 2017-February 2021
● Total number of organized violence events: 798
● Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 2,614
● Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 1,312
The Mozambican government continued its offensives last week, extending helicopter strikes to a wider swath of the area around the Messalo River. There is no indication yet, however, of whether the growing pace of strikes is shifting territorial control on the ground.
Helicopters supporting government forces struck insurgent positions near the Messalo river from at least 8 February through 11 February. The Messalo forms the southern border of Mocimboa da Praia district, and the area around it has been used by the insurgency as a base area dating back to 2018. Reports differ as to whether the helicopter missions were run by Dyck Advisory Group, the Mozambican military, or the two working in concert, although Russian-made helicopters have been seen in Pemba, being flown by Mozambican pilots. The new helicopters and pilots are likely the result of the Mozambican military’s contract with South African arms dealer Paramount, which reportedly included both helicopters and pilot training, but it is not clear if they are yet involved in operations or are still in training.
Information about the details of the strikes is in short supply. However, multiple sources confirm that helicopters supporting government forces attacked the area around Mbau, in southern Mocimboa da Praia district, on 10 February. A single, well-placed source reported a series of helicopter strikes in the area where Mocimboa da Praia, Muidumbe, and Macomia districts meet. First, the source reported that government helicopters hit Xitaxi, a village in eastern Muidumbe district about 20 kilometers south of the Mocimboa da Praia border, on 8 February. The next day, according to the source, there was an initial government attack on Mbau and neighboring Chinda, along with a strike on Miangalewa just to the south in Muidumbe district. Finally, the source reported that on 11 February there were helicopter strikes along the Mocimboa da Praia-Muidumbe border between Mbau and Chitunda. No casualty estimates are available for any of these attacks.
Reports also came through last week of an earlier insurgent attack. On 7 February, insurgents kidnapped two women near Lago Chai, a lake in northern Macomia district. The insurgents assaulted the victims and then let them go.
It is not common insurgent practice to let everyone in a group of abducted civilians go free, but supply problems may be preventing them from taking on new prisoners or even keeping their existing prisoners in captivity. Five girls who had been imprisoned by the group for nearly three years after insurgents captured them near the start of the conflict were set free about two weeks ago. Last week, they arrived in Macomia town, saying that insurgents were offering to release hostages in an attempt to stretch their limited supplies further. The girls reported having to cook and transport food for insurgent fighters during their time in captivity. They were held in bases near the Messalo River, where insurgents covered their roofs with leaves and grass to avoid detection by government helicopters. The insurgent leaders, according to the girls, were Mozambicans, including some from Macomia district