The Growth and Impact of ISIL in Mozambique: The Difficulties to Defeating their Insurgency

Mozambique’s conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has experienced a notable increase in the level of violence within the last year. Although active in the region since 2017, it is only more recently that ISIL’s attacks have escalated in both frequency and severity. The bloodshed caused by ISIL throughout Mozambique has had an alarming impact, evident from the recurring raids on innocent villagers and the growing number of casualties, as seen by the increasing rate of people beheaded or raped.

Furthermore, the details of these raids have become even more brutal and cruel in recent times, in that dozens of the decapitated victims have been young children. This not only serves to highlight the extent of terrorism within the state but its rapid escalation. This merits further discussion and analysis, as it arguably provides an indication as to the future of the insurgency, whether ISIL extremism will continue to grow and intensify, or if they will be ultimately defeated. 

All throughout the country, thousands of citizens have been reported as missing or misplaced as ISIL target their communities at a shocking rate from previous years of the conflict. The statistics reveal that the increase has multiplied several times over, with 172,000 misplaced in the spring of 2020 to over 732,000 this spring one year later. This demonstrates the impact that ISIL has had on a multitude, which has grown exponentially within a relatively short timeframe. This, therefore, illustrates the extent of their power as a terrorist organization. 

To further expand upon this is ISIL’s attack on the town of Palma last March. Although the local security forces were reported to have secured control of the town and defeated the terrorists, ISIL’s actions certainly left their mark there, with multiple buildings destroyed, several dozen military personnel killed and beheaded bodies covering the streets. The main image that can be taken from this fight in Palma is the barbarity and destructive power of ISIL. The counterinsurgencies victory and claim to have retaken the town pales in significance and impact when the atrocities of ISIL are brought to attention.

Upon examining the level of violence by the terrorists, the success of the security forces appears to be a mere detail in comparison to the widespread brutality of the insurgency. The extent of this is that ISIL activity nowadays seems to capture the spotlight whenever their presence is noted, their reputation and crimes far more prominent than the efforts of those who try to stop them.

This interpretation shows an alarming undertone as it can be argued that, regardless of whether ISIL wins or loses its battles with Mozambique’s forces, it leaves behind a clear atmosphere of death and destruction and from this an obviously daunting degree of fear. This fear is evident in that that so many citizens have been misplaced due to the terrorists; hundreds alone fled during the fighting at Palma.

So many in Mozambique clearly feel greatly threatened by the presence of ISIL. Thus, the danger that this organization presents cannot be understated. Indeed, this is apparent given that the primary goal of a terrorist is not always to overthrow a regime, but rather to spread chaos and terror amongst their victims. From this, it can be argued that ISIL is becoming more and more successful when discussing its actions, reputation, and infamy.

A worrying thought that comes from the Palma attack is that, on a certain level, the efforts of Mozambique police and military make little difference. If they are defeated in battles with ISIL, this increases the terrorists’ strength and reputation and damages the state’s morale, as well as likely resulting in a large number of deaths in both security personnel and civilians. However, even if the counterinsurgency technically defeats ISIL, as seen by the fight in Palma, the terrorists will still have been successful in their goal of causing casualties and spreading fear amongst a multitude. It can be determined from this that ISIL stands to gain whatever the outcome of their skirmishes and perceivably always one step ahead of the authorities.

In order to combat them, it has been more recently announced that multiple allies of Mozambique from other regions of Africa have promised to contribute their forces to the effort to eliminate ISIL, whilst Portugal and the United States have been providing training for Mozambique’s troops. Although the results of this are yet to be seen, it makes sense that a strong international backing is likely to increase Mozambique’s chances of defeating ISIL in the long-term. Whilst ISIL is fearsome and enjoys clear advantages in their conflict, it must be remembered that they had a similar experience in the Middle East, yet were successfully driven out. The same can occur in this current conflict. The combined efforts of multiple nations focused on overwhelming ISIL appear to be the best option to ending terrorism in Mozambique.

Overall, it is clear that the extent of ISIL activity and its impact on Mozambique is significantly growing. Furthermore, the threat they pose may also increase and become more serious. Unlike with other conflicts, ISIL terrorism is likely to continue to remain strong as the results of their fighting with local security forces appear to have less consequence for them. So long as they are able to spread chaos and fear, they remain a successful threat.

From this, it is apparent that ISIL is likely to be successful from its current methods. Their position as terrorists makes their ambitions, whilst highly cruel, simpler and easier to accomplish than those of counterinsurgent forces, placing them at an advantage. Despite this, they are not unbeatable and there is hope that the foreign support Mozambique has received will be enough to ultimately defeat ISIL.


Saudi Arabia’s Role in the Afghan Peace Process

Following the ongoing U.S troop’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after the 20-year campaign in the country, the insurgency of the Taliban remains resilient. The Persian Gulf States played a key role during the Afghan conflict, in terms of mediation and reconstruction efforts. Consequently, their involvement is likely to increase once U.S troops are fully withdrawn from Afghanistan.

As a regional power with strong historic relations with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is expected to actively participate in the peace process. The “Declaration of Peace in Afghanistan”, signed in Makkah on the 11th June 2021, witnesses Saudi Arabia’s commitment to promoting peace and dialogue so as to prevent every form of violence and extremism, in line with the Islamic principles. However, it is relevant to take into consideration that Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is heavily influenced by the anti-Iranian agenda. Additionally, their goal is to expand Saudi religious, political, and cultural spheres of influence in Afghanistan.


The Saudi monarchy has a long history of engagement in Afghanistan. In 1980, Saudi Arabia partnered with Pakistan and the United States to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan by financing the mujahideen in the 1980s for humanitarian aid and weapons. Osama Bin Laden was among the Saudi financiers of the mujahideen. In 1996, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan were the only three Gulf states to recognize the Taliban, after they took control of Kabul.

After 9/11, Saudi Arabia formally cut ties with the Taliban. This was due to international pressure, prompted by Bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks.

The shift in the Saudi policy in Afghanistan is evident in the Saudi support of the Afghan government, in terms of investment, reconstruction, and mediation efforts in the country. In 2010, the former Afghan President Karzai (2001-2014) sought Saudi mediation to reconcile with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia’s mediation with the Taliban failed, and Qatar emerged as the privileged actor in the Afghan peace negotiations.

Saudi Arabia Agenda in Afghanistan

Recently, Saudi Arabia hosted the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan. Important decisions and agreements between the two countries were reached.

In regards to political relations, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the GCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The goals of which were to strengthen cultural, political, and economic cooperation. Furthermore, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia are committed to enhancing security cooperation in the fight against terrorism. This is subsequently a common threat.

Concerning the educational development, both sides agreed to accelerate the establishment of the International Islamic University in Nangarhar. This is a district where ISIL-K has not been entirely eradicated. The university will deliver religious classes in Arabic rather than Afghanistan’s national languages.

However, Saudi Arabia’s reconstruction and investment efforts in the country should be seen in the bigger picture of the Kingdom’s interests. Additionally, expanding its influence in Afghanistan should be seen as a way to balance the influence of Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran as the two leading Islamic powers, Sunni and Shi’a, are committed to the building of Islamic universities and higher education institutions in Afghanistan to exert their influence.

As stated by Simon Mabon, a lecturer in international relations and director of the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies at Lancaster University, “Funding schools and universities is an increasingly popular way of cultivating soft – cultural – power, with education seen as a way of empowering people and providing them with the means through which to improve their socio-economic positions within society”.


All in all, Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the country may increase to fill the void after the U.S troops. In case of a full-scale civil war in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia may support armed groups based on its political and religious allies to exert influence within the peace process. Saudi Arabia and Iran should not lose their opportunity to engage in Afghanistan to mediate and stabilize the country. The result of its loss could result in a destabilization of the Middle East. Ultimately, this is not in any of the countries interests.

Saudi Arabia should rather focus on its commitment to supporting lasting peace in Afghanistan. This may be achieved by promoting peace and dialogue amongst the Afghani and Pakistani leaders, according to Islamic principles. A sustainable peace process in Afghanistan, as well as stability, can only be achieved by including Shi’a minorities.

Pakistan’s Support of the Taliban Might Come Back to Haunt Islamabad

The scenes from recent Taliban military successes in Afghanistan were positively received among members of Pakistan’s security establishment. While denying it publicly, these Pakistani hardliners have funneled support to the Taliban for decades. If the current trajectory of the conflict continues, they will get what they wished for: a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. A Taliban triumph, however, will provide a merely pyrrhic victory for Pakistan, a victory that it will come to regret.

Pakistan’s Support for the Taliban

Since the Taliban’s emergence almost three decades ago, Pakistan has continuously provided a safe haven and financial and military assistance to the Taliban. Following the U.S. invasion in 2001, Pakistan became a safe haven for Al-Qaeda’s leadership as well. There are a couple of reasons why Pakistan continues its support for the Taliban.

First, Pakistan’s security apparatus believes that the Taliban gives it strategic depth, securing the Afghan frontier and permitting the concentration of Pakistani forces on the Indian frontier. The Taliban is the only ally of Pakistan among Afghanistan’s political actors. Pakistan believes that maintaining positive relations with the organization will prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for anti-Pakistan militants and outside powers.

Second, Pakistan fears that targeting Afghan militant groups will invite retaliation against Pakistani targets. While Pakistan sponsors these groups, it lacks full control of them. Nevertheless, it continues to argue to the contrary, believing that this strengthens its position in international bargaining.

Third, Pakistan fears a strong and independent Afghanistan that is aligned and supported by India. Such an Afghan-Indian alliance, Pakistan believes, will encircle Pakistan. The 2011 Afghanistan-Indian strategic partnership agreement and the recent call by Ambassador Mamundzay, the top Afghan diplomat in Delhi, for India to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, increases Pakistan’s paranoia regarding Indian engagement in Afghanistan.

What Can Go Wrong for Islamabad?

Internationally, the Taliban takeover will affect Pakistan’s strategic depth and its diplomatic relations with its neighbors.

First, as mentioned earlier, Pakistan sees the Taliban in Afghanistan as its strategic depth in its confrontation with India. The Taliban, however, has its own interests. The Taliban would probably intensify its diplomatic campaign to gain international legitimacy. India has already established a new direct line to the Taliban and an Indian delegation has met Taliban officials last month in Doha. Normalization between the Taliban and India will undermine Pakistan’s conception of its strategic depth.

Second, Pakistan should expect increasing pressure from its Islamic neighbors Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. These countries have accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban in the past, and with the intensification of fighting between the Taliban and Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen warlords, this pressure is sure to increase.

Third, with diminishing influence over the Taliban and increasing international demand to rein in and influence the Taliban, Pakistan will find itself in a diplomatic nightmare. A victorious Taliban is less likely to defer to Islamabad in its moment of victory. At the same time, the international community will increasingly defer to Pakistan to act and impose its influence over the Taliban. The failure of Pakistan to influence the Taliban will inflict a blow on its international bargaining power.

Domestically, the Taliban takeover will create economic and security challenges for Pakistan. First, escalation of the war and a Taliban takeover will propel a massive flood of refugees into Pakistan. These refugees would join the 3 million people already seeking refuge in Pakistan. As Pakistan has its hands full, these new refugees will further exacerbate its economic situation.

Second, a Taliban win will embolden the jihadists’ anti-government factions in Pakistan. In the past, the Taliban has already inspired extremist movements in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban have launched attacks against Pakistani targets, horrifically killing 132 kids in an army school in Peshawar in 2014 in one such attack. Taliban success in neighboring Afghanistan will lead to the import of sectarian violence from Afghanistan into Pakistan.


While the Pakistani military establishment is cheerful about the recent Taliban successes, Pakistan might face an international and domestic blowback if the Taliban will take over Afghanistan. It might be in Pakistan’s best interest to confidentially ask the U.S. to intensify its air support to Afghan government forces operations to prevent the Taliban from taking over.

The Reemergence of Right-Wing Extremism Groups in the United States

It has been a scary realization for many people in the United States as more people are witnessing the re-emergence of right-wing extremism. We are living through a moment of profound yet positive change in attitudes toward race, with a majority of citizens coming to understand more about the deeply embedded historical legacy of racist structures and ideas.

However, there is another more dangerous, group of people. They are seeking to rehabilitate the toxic political notions of racial superiority and stoke fear of immigrants and minorities to inflame grievances for political ends. Furthermore, they are attempting to build a notion of an embattled white majority that has to defend its power. This, achieved by any means necessary.

Extremism in the US

In the United States, terrorists are usually associated with one of the six most commonly known ideologies: right-wing extremism, left-wing extremism, environmental extremism, nationalist/separatist extremism, religious extremism, and single-issue extremism. In recent years, the threat of right-wing terrorism in the United States appears to be rising at an alarming rate. More specifically, we have seen an increase in white supremacy anti-government extremists, such as militia groups and so-called sovereign citizens interested in plotting attacks against government, racial, religious, and political targets in the United States.

The terms “right-wing extremists” and “left-wing extremists” do not correspond to political parties in the United States, such as Republicans or Democrats. However, the election of Donald Trump as the President has been cited as a factor in inciting the reemergence of activists in America. These groups both reject left-wing ideology and mainstream conservatism.

The Increase in Recent Years

Another huge factor inciting this reemergence is the role of social media in promoting these ideologies. White supremacy has made its return to mainstream media, as deadly acts of violence are occuring in states all around the country. A prominent US civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that it is currently tracking more than 1,600 extremist groups within the United States.

This has inevitably led to an increase in domestic terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists in the United States. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of such attacks was five or fewer per year. The number of attacks then rose to 14 in 2012. This remained consistent between 2012 and 2016, with a mean of 11 attacks and a median of 13 attacks. This then jumped to 31 in 2017 and has continued to rise every year since then. Most recently, in the summer of 2020, there was a specific increase in the number of attacks on protesters and street violence. This included car attacks, street fights, small explosives, and many non-fatal shootings.

How to Move Away from This Upward Trend

U.S. federal and local agencies need to shift some of their focus and intelligence resources to penetrating far-right networks and preventing future attacks. There needs to be a challenge of exposing white nationalist ideologies and the opportunistic politicians who are appropriating their language. This will demonstrate to the American people that these ideas are fundamentally un-American and are all too often a cover for corruption, graft, and racism.

In an analysis of the January 6th Capitol Hill riots, it became clear that an alarmingly significant number of members of both police and military had joined in on attacking the nation’s institutions. Consequently, many have been exposed to disinformation that led them to conclude that violent action was needed to save democracy. This kind of information will be crucial for prevention efforts. Furthermore, to stop the radicalization and recruitment of white supremacism in many countries. However, it will also be imperative in understanding how to address and remove the motivations for joining.

The New Reality in Afghanistan Requires the Afghanistan Government to Change Its Strategy

Since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement in February 2020, the Taliban has accelerated its offensive, securing major gains. The Taliban has expanded its control of the country and captured border crossings, routing entire Afghan National Army units in the process.

Clearly, the current government strategy is failing. The Afghan government should realize the fact that without the presence of U.S. and NATO troops, they are the weaker side in this war. Instead of denying it, the Afghan government should adopt a new strategy that better represents the evolving reality in its war against the Taliban.

Current Strategy

Operationally, under the authority of Joint Order 125, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) holds an active-defense posture, concentrating on defending major provisional capitals. The Active Defense consists of ANDSF patrolling forward from checkpoints, conducting limited offensive actions and counterattacks within the vicinity of checkpoints, and consolidating checkpoints. With the exception of the Special Security Forces, the Afghan conventional forces rarely take the fight to the Taliban and increasingly often surrender without a fight.

Diplomatically, the Afghan government continues to ask the U.S. to keep its contractors in Afghanistan and its air support to Afghan troops. With diminishing U.S. military presence, the government also calls on other countries to provide technical and anti-terrorism operation support. At the same time, the Afghan government maintains its commitment to peace talks with the Taliban.


The following recommendations are based on two of Sun Tzu’s hierarchy of strategies, attacking the enemy’s strategy and disrupting the enemy’s alliances.

First, the Taliban strives to gain international and domestic recognition. Domestically, the Taliban tries to rebrand itself as a capable government able to provide the population with basic needs. Internationally, the Taliban strives to expand its international recognition. From its Doha-based political office, Taliban officials visit world capitals and conduct negotiations.

To confront the Taliban domestically, the Afghan government should focus on the population. Using tools of propaganda, the government should portray the Taliban as corrupt, oppressive, and foreign-controlled. With more than 60 percent of the Afghan population under the age of 24, the majority of the population never lived under Taliban rule and are not familiar with the organization’s ways. With increasing reports of Taliban committed assassinations and executions of government forces and officials, oppression of women, and reports of foreign fighters in its ranks, the government could mobilize the population against the Taliban.

Internationally, the Afghan government should defame the Taliban as untrustworthy and urge world governments to refrain from negotiating with the Taliban and providing it a façade of international recognition. The continued participation in the peace talks with the Taliban should also be reconsidered. The participation of the government provides the Taliban recognition with no substantial gains for the government.

Furthermore, the Taliban knows that the government forces are static, trying to keep control of provincial capitals. While the government forces are pinned down in cities, the Taliban takes control of more territories and expands its operations in the north. This dynamic needs to change and the government needs to take the initiative.

The government should retreat from “lost causes” such as defending overrun southern districts and solidify the government’s control in the central and northern regions. Then, it should wage guerrilla warfare in Taliban-controlled regions against the Taliban’s extended supply lines, symbols of governance, and political organizations. The successful mobilization of militias is key in bolstering the capacity of the pro-government forces. The “glue” that connects the members of these militia’s together, ethnic identity and strong anti-Taliban sentiment, decreases the chances of desertion.

Second, the Afghan government needs to disrupt the enemy’s alliances. Pakistan, traditionally perceived as the Taliban’s main ally, should be the main effort. The potential Taliban takeover of Afghanistan raises concerns in Pakistan’s halls of power. A Taliban victory will embolden Pakistan’s own anti-government Islamist movements and hinder the country’s stability. The Afghan government should take advantage of Pakistan’s concerns and urge Islamabad to cease its support of the Taliban.


The successful Taliban offensive requires the Afghan government to rethink its strategy. Acknowledging the reality on the ground should propel the government to consider such a change. Attacking the enemy’s strategy and its alliances is a good first step in changing the tide of war.

Rise to Peace