West's military aid to Mozambican Army misses the mark
Ungubana, Mozambique — Standing in a chest-deep trench in this small Army camp in southern Mozambique, Pvt. Florencio Eduardo Daniel savored his first real meal in a week - a tin can of beans and sardines. ``We never know when the food is coming,'' he said.
Private Daniel and 103 other Mozambican soldiers encamped around this abandoned railroad station are some of the best-trained troops in the Mozambican Army. They graduated last December from a grueling 12-week course run by British military advisers in Zimbabwe.
As the first full company to be trained by the British, these young men have become a symbol of growing British and Western military aid to President Joaquim Chissano's mostly Soviet-supplied Army.
Yet the failure to provide logistical support along with equipment once the troops are in the field raises a big question mark over the effectiveness of that assistance.
Despite being rated as some of Mozambique's best units, the troops in the southern province of Inhambane Province failed to prevent and were slow to react to a July 1987 rebel massacre of more than 400 people. When word of the killings finally reached the main Army base 11 miles away, the soldiers had to walk to the town because the base was short of transport that day.
The instruction in tactical warfare, river crossings, and shooting that these Western-trained units received has served them well in the thick brush lands 50 miles north of Maputo as they battle rebels of the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo).
But the troops seem ill-prepared for the logistical nightmares of Mozambique's 13-year-old war, where shortages of food and supplies drain Army morale. ``At the British training camp, we ate well, dressed well, and slept well,'' said Daniel, a three-year veteran. ``Once we came back to Mozambique, everything changed.''
The 30,000-strong armed force needs help on many fronts, including training in its battle against Renamo, which is believed to be backed by South Africa. But the government of the Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo) faces a herculean task in improving the administration of an Army that still resembles the guerrilla force that battled the Portuguese until independence in 1975.
When asked during an interview last year what was the Army's most pressing problem, President Chissano's instant reply was ``logistics.''
Current Western aid efforts, however, do not squarely address that problem. To date, Western military assistance has focused on providing training and nonlethal equipment, such as radios, boots, and uniforms.
Conservatives in the United States Congress blocked a Reagan administration proposal in 1985 to send nonlethal aid to the Mozambican Army.
The British program, though the biggest of any Western country, is still modest, costing an estimated $8 million this year. It trains 350 soldiers a year, far too few to have any quick impact on the war. And because the course is held outside Mozambique, British trainers admit they are out of touch with local conditions.
``You can't be serious unless you are training in-country,'' said one Western military analyst. ``The program was designed by politicians, and its importance is largely political.''
Two companies of about 110 men have been trained by Britain, and two more are expected by next March. They are only a few of a mushrooming number of special Mozambican forces set up with Western training and assistance. Most of the government soldiers receiving such aid are guarding projects of interest to the particular sponsor. They include:
The troops at Ungubana, who are defending a British-funded effort to rebuild Mozambique's great southern railroad that follows the Limpopo River on its 335-mile route from Zimbabwe to the port of Maputo, the capital city. They are also backing a government offensive launched on May 18 in Maputo Province.
Other elite forces include one guarding the European Economic Community's biggest agricultural project near Maputo. Italian firms have local troops guarding their dam projects in the south.
Another 400-strong government force, armed with some of Britain's latest rifles, is being trained by a private British security firm, Defence Systems Ltd., to halt Renamo attacks on rehabilitation work on the Nacala railraod.
The French-Portuguese consortium rebuilding the line has suspended work for the past three months because the area is too dangerous. And, in April, a French military adviser asked the high command for 3,000 government troops to protect the project. The request, effectively, for one-tenth of the Army, was considered ludicrous by Mozambican military officers.
Defence Systems is expected to land a contract to help set up a force to protect the power lines of the giant Cahora Bassa hydroelectric plant in Tete Province. Portugal, Mozambique, and South Africa recently agreed to revive the plant, which supplies 10 percent of Pretoria's power.
A rural Spanish police force has begun to train small numbers of militiamen.
Three neighbors - Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania - have stationed troops in Mozambique to defend key transport routes and economic centers.
Yet, of all the special forces trained by Mozambique's allies, only the Soviet-trained ``red beret'' commandos have made a major difference in the war.
As they did last year, the ``red berets'' are spearheading a new, and thus far largely successfull, offensive against Renamo in the rich province of Zamb'ezia. On June 2, they captured the district capital of Milange, on the border with Malawi, which the rebels had controlled since September 1986.
As far as the West is concerned, the various small packages of nonlethal equipment and training has changed the Army very little, say military observers.
And in the long term, the creation of individual special forces protecting Western-financed development projects poses dangers for the armed forces, they say.
Regular troops increasingly resent the special treatment afforded the Western-backed units. And, it could make coordination of operations more difficult. When Zimbabwean forces swept into Gaza Province in mid-March for raids against guerrilla bases along the Limpopo railroad, Frelimo troops already in the area were apparently caught unaware. They had not been informed of the operation.