MAPUTO (Reuters) - Over 1,000 Mozambique troops on Thursday recaptured the northern village of Muidumbe from Islamist insurgents, police general commander Bernardino Rafael said, killing 16 and destroying some of their logistics.
Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, home to gas developments worth some $60 billion, is grappling with an insurgency linked to Islamic State that has gathered pace this year, with insurgents regularly taking on the army and seizing entire towns.
Speaking to troops in a field in Muidumbe, an area where local media reported a spate of beheadings by insurgents last week, Rafael congratulated the men for their victory but warned they had not won yet.
“We marched and arrived in Muidumbe district headquarters, we expelled those who had occupied it,” he said in footage broadcast by state broadcaster TVM following the operation.
“Congratulations to our brave men... [but] what we achieved up to now is not a victory, we achieved one step of our work,” he said, adding that insurgents should stop the violence and speak with the government, which is open to dialogue.
The insurgent group, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, staged their first attack in 2017. Known at first mainly for crude beheadings, they declared allegiance to Islamic State in June 2019 and since then have massively stepped up their attacks in both scale and frequency.
In August, they captured the key town of Mocimboa da Praia, only around 60 kilometres from the gas developments. The government has yet to announce its recapture.
Security analysts, who can be sceptical of government claims of victory, said an offensive had taken place in Muidumbe.
Jasmine Opperman, analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Data Project, said some nearby villages at least had been recaptured, though many locals were still hiding in the bush.
She added this had more symbolic importance for the government than strategic: “The government could not allow a second Mocimboa da Praia.”
Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Toby Chopra
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