The Islamist militants fighting in Palma, Mozambique are far better equipped and organised than previously, according to the chief executive of Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a mercenary group supporting the government’s counter-insurgency efforts in Cabo Delgado province.

Retired colonel Lionel Dyck said they are “a different calibre of terrorist — they’re not running away as much as usual.”

He said the insurgents' assault on Palma was well-planned, describing it as “a three-pronged attack with mortars and heavy weapons that they’ve been using quite well".

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Speaking to UK broadcaster the BBC on Monday, Dyck suggested the insurgents obtained their weapons from both Mozambique and further afield.

“They have captured quite a lot from military posts they have overrun (in Cabo Delgado) before the rains came. But there is no way they captured mortars (the Mozambique army does not use them), so I think they brought them in from Tanzania or somewhere further north.”

'Fighting season'

Dyck said the Palma assault should not have come as a surprise and believed the insurgents would have spent the rainy season planning the attack.

“We’ve predicted this for a while. We’ve had the rainy season, which has just ended, and now we’re in what people call the ‘fighting season’ when the roads dry up and the bush is easier to move through. I think they’ve had the non-fighting season to prepare.”

DAG is working in Cabo Delgado for Mozambique’s Ministry of Interior, which controls the police force. DAG's contract is set to end early next month.

'Bodies lying on the road'

Dyck said when his men arrived in Palma on the first day of the attack — 25 March — the situation was “very grim".

“There were bodies lying on the road. There were food trucks …with the drivers lying next to their vehicles without heads. There were any number of people being killed. On the first night, the (insurgents) were going house to house to kill selected people.”

As of yesterday, Dyck said DAG personnel and local police were involved in fighting the “very aggressive” insurgents in the streets of Palma and on rescue missions.

“They’re engaged with a number of small groups of insurgents ... I have lost one guy ... and they’re in the fight to recover three wounded policemen. Two helicopters are also heading north — including one gunship — to recover 50 refugees that are hiding in the bush, north of Palma.”

Evacuations

He suggested DAG had evacuated about 300 people from the area since the fighting began, taking people to Afungi airstrip in Total’s Mozambique LNG construction site, with commercial aircraft chartered to take them from there.

While admitting to be not fully in the picture, Dyck said that Mozambique’s military “did not involve themselves in the fighting until maybe last night (28 March)", adding that the military could be better organised and trained.

Asked about Total’s involvement in events at Palma, he remarked: “I don’t want to be rude about them, but they have done nothing. When we required fuel to deal with this, they wouldn’t give us fuel. Their policy is they don’t support any form of armed security outside their camp.

He also criticised Total’s lack of a contingency plan for evacuating people.

“They needed to prepare a plan for an asset that has always been under threat. The boats that rescued people off the beach were private boats. There were no plans when it came to stuff hitting the fan.”

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, in a statement issued on official media channels, ISIS claimed the insurgents killed more than 55 members of local security forces and Christians, destroying official buildings and banks.