Countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) have agreed on military intervention in Mozambique’s northern region of Cabo Delgado with Rwanda already having deployed boots on the ground, but lessons from elsewhere — specifically Afghanistan — show that this may be a foolhardy decision that will backfire spectacularly in the long term.
The “War on Terror” waged under the auspices of seeking to neutralise “known terror havens” in Afghanistan and Iraq was waged under the now infamous Bush Doctrine. The doctrine — which, among other things, affirms the legitimacy of any American preventive strike and emphasises the notion that “If you are not with us, you are against us”— is responsible for giving the world characters such as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Hambali amongst other extremists whose names have become synonymous with global terrorism.
Terrorism as an asymmetric threat that takes advantage of vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses of an adversary came to prominence with the cataclysmic attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001. This event was led by the operational planner, Mohammed Atta of the Harmburg Cell and 18 other co-conspirators belonging to Al Qaeda.
Planes were hijacked mid-air and flown to some of the most prominent monuments of state power in the US. Approximately 3 000 people, including first responders and bystanders were killed in the attack.
The Taliban government was accused of harbouring the mastermind behind the attacks, Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, and was given extreme demands to surrender him before George Bush Jnr authorised attacks on the Tora Bora Cave Complex where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and crew were believed to be hiding.
The military-centric approach was predicated upon third generation warfare methods with “shock and awe” being used as a tactic. Shock and awe is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power, dominant battlefield awareness, overpowering manoeuvres, and spectacular displays of force to paralyse an adversary’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight. Mountains were reduced to mounds of dust as Tomahawk missiles and other sophisticated weapons of war ravaged the mountains of Afghanistan in a futile attempt to get the “invisible” enemy.
Twenty years down the line, the US and its allies are making a haste retreat from Afghanistan, leaving behind vulnerable foreign collaborators at the mercy of an ideologically-determined, and resurgent, Taliban. The Taliban has been taking district after district whilst using endless talks to bargain for more.
The government in Afghanistan is evidently incapable of offering its population security as evidenced by numerous roadside bombs and instances of US-armed Afghan forces fleeing into neighbouring countries amidst an unrelenting onslaught by the Taliban.
The importance of having a potent ideology is being exemplified by this paradox. The Afghan soldiers are fighting a mercenary war, while the Taliban believe themselves to be waging a war of attrition against foreigners who invaded their territory.
Despite numerous remarks to the effect that the Taliban are not popular in Afghanistan, they seem to be getting recruits to join their cause at an alarming rate. This is a lesson to specialists on the efficacy of foreign inspired military-centric approaches to counterinsurgency. Trillions of dollars later, the US is leaving behind an emboldened Taliban group that is threatening to overwhelm the entire country whilst taking over the government.
These are crucial lessons for Sadc and now Rwanda as they seek to solve the Cabo Delgado conundrum through the application of military tactics. Ansar al Sunna —the name under which the insurgency goes by — has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) for propaganda reasons whilst waging attacks and warfare in an effort to recruit and intimidate.
The overreaction by regional players is getting the bandits to confine these regional players to where exactly they want them to be. The escalation of violence, an avalanche of weapons within the region and increased instability as a consequence of the war in northern parts of Mozambique is definitely going to be a by-product of this engagement.
What needs to be confronted is radicalisation. The recent pattern of violence in South Africa showed that violent extremism is now endemic to the region. People who are actively getting involved in such schemes are radicalised, cognitively and behaviourally, into embarking upon nefarious schemes that can have debilitating implications on regional security and stability.
Sadc intervention in Mozambique must be cognisant of the important role of deradicalisation and counter-radicalisation strategies.
There is a difference between counter terrorism and counter terrorist. Personally, I am against a foreign-driven the COIN approach embarked upon by Sadc. I am sceptical (and will be proven correct in the midterm) of the escalation of violence and emergence of composite threats if even contexts from other zones are to be considered.
Lessons from Afghanistan ought to be understood properly. People must learn to learn from their mistakes and From those of their friends and foes.
Sapien is a trade and security analyst