On March 24, 2021, the jihadist organization Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo (ASWJ) seized Palma, an oil town on the coast of Mozambique's Cabo Delgado Province. The capture has not only left thousands of families displaced and hundreds dead, but has severely jeopardized the nation's financial future and significantly degraded the security environment in the once hopeful east African country.
For several years, the government of Mozambique has struggled to clamp down on the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP). The offensive by Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo, an offshoot of ISCAP, is simply the manifestation of this reality.
ASWJ fighters reportedly began the attack against Palma in the early morning hours of March 24. Over the next three days, three groups of several hundred fighters battled their way to within 6 miles of a major Light Natural Gas (LNG) project on Mozambique's coast. Now that the majority of the town is under their control, ASWJ has begun reallocating their forces towards the LNG facility, as that is the last major bastion of government troops in the area.
It remains unclear the amount of casualties sustained by the government, ASWJ, and the civilian population at this time, although American intelligence agencies have indicated at least forty foreigners working or visiting the area were killed during the attack.
According to open source intelligence (OSINT) and data located by The Intelligence Ledger within United Nations achieves, the humanitarian impact of ASWJ's offensive has been massive. At least half of the city's 75,000 residents fled the area as it became clear the government would be unable to hold the metropolis in the face of fierce ASWJ battlefield prowess. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has indicated that well over 12,000 civilians from Palma have been forced to relocate in the nearby districts of Mueda, Nangade, and Pemba since March 24, with several thousand more still traveling or awaiting processing. Local hospitals in these municipalities are stretched dangerously thin, as neither local physicians or UN teams have the required resources for such an influx of individuals, a plurality of who have sustained battlefield wounds.
As previously mentioned, several hundred ASWJ fighters have battled their way to within 6 miles of a major Light Natural Gas (LNG) project on Mozambique's coast. Total, the french company spearheading the project, has evacuated all its staff working on the facility, meaning that if the site falls to ASWJ, so too will the Mozambique government's hopes of a dynamic liquefied natural gas industry.
There are currently three major LNG projects underway in Mozambique, with Total, ExxonMobil, and Eni all working in different areas of the country. If these projects are completed, they can be expected to generate about $95,000,000,000 (USD) of revenue for the government. By comparison, Mozambique's current gross domestic product is only $15,000,000,000.
The Intelligence Ledger is confident that the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (MADF) will eventually recapture Palma from the Islamic State. However, such an operation will likely be costly, in both blood and treasure. This is largely due to ineptitude and corruption within the government, as the MADF is severely short on personnel, while training is substandard. Furthermore, rivalries between local law enforcement organizations and the military have repeatedly undermined otherwise sound insurgency strategies. It would not be surprising to see at least a year-long delay until the security situation in Cabo Delgado improves.