Picture: REUTERS.
Picture: REUTERS.

The SA private military contractor providing aerial support to Mozambican ground forces battling Islamic State-linked insurgents near a $20bn natural gas project is set to leave the country in a week.

Dyck Advisory Group’s (DAG) one-year agreement is coming to an end and has not been extended, with the last gunship helicopter flights on April 2, Lionel Dyck, the company’s founder, said by phone. That could leave state troops exposed as they continue a house-to-house mission to find insurgents remaining in Palma, the closest town to the Total site where fighting that began a week ago is continuing, he said.

The attack on Palma is the latest in a series of assaults that have taken the conflict in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province closer to the natural gas finds that are crucial for the nation’s economic future. The three-year insurgency is putting as much as $120bn of investment at stake, and has left more than 2,600 people dead while displacing more than 700,000.

“House clearing is the most dangerous form of combat,” Dyck said. It helps “if you have the aerial support for that. And the aerial support has got to be little helicopters like mine, which are nippy and can turn around and duck and dive.”

While the Total site is not currently at risk of a direct raid, the militants’ use of mortars allows them to fire from a distance, he said.

DAG has come under criticism for its involvement in the war, including from Amnesty International, which accused it of firing indiscriminately into crowds — allegations Dyck said the company is investigating. The US government has said the contractors are not playing a helpful role and its marines are now training Mozambican soldiers to defeat the insurgents group it has labelled as a terrorist organisation.

An official from Mozambique’s defence ministry contacted by phone said the minister would give a statement on the subject later.

Major towns

The company’s exit without adequately trained and experienced Mozambican helicopter pilots taking over could prove costly, according to Willem Els, a senior training co-ordinator at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

“They are playing into the hands of the insurgents,” he said on Wednesday. “It goes without saying that you need air support going into battle like that.”

The government hired Dyck’s company a year ago as the insurgents were raiding major towns in Cabo Delgado, and rapidly advancing towards the provincial capital of Pemba.

“The insurgents would’ve been in Pemba” were it not for his company’s involvement, he said. “A year ago, Pemba was at risk. It’s no longer at risk, but if we leave and there is no real effort to protect it, it will be a problem.”

By Monday, several thousands of people had sought refuge near the gas project, about 8km south of the town that first came under attack March 24, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement. More than 110,000 people lived in Palma district, including 43,600 who’d fled there from other areas, it said.

Bloomberg

'What affects Mozambique will affect neighbouring countries,' warns UN Refugee Agency

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