A South African military company hailed for saving hundreds of civilians last week during an attack by Islamist militants on a strategic town in northern Mozambique has reportedly had its government contract terminated.
The Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), which has repeatedly flown helicopter missions to warn-torn Cabo Delgado province over the last year in support of Mozambique's army, will shortly end its involvement in the conflict, according to Max Dyck, a DAG executive.
Mr Dyck told South African newspaper the Daily Maverick that government officials had decided not to renew DAG’s contract, which comes to an end on April 6th, despite the crucial role its helicopters played in opposing the militants, who are known as Al-Shabaab –“the youth” – in Cabo Delgado.
As well as rescuing over 220 local Palma residents and foreign contractors who found themselves trapped by the insurgent's surprise offensive on the coastal town last Wednesday, DAG's six helicopters repeatedly engaged the militants in the days that followed to keep them at bay.
Several survivors of the Al-Shabaab attack, including South Africans, have publicly said they owed their lives to the DAG teams who came to their rescue, after an estimated 150 militants attacked the town from different directions, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee.
“Our contract will not be extended,” Mr Dyck told the online publication. “Of course, if we had been requested to stay, we would have,” he said.
Mr Dyck said the Mozambican government had not given the company a reason for its decision.
However, last month Amnesty International accused DAG pilots of indiscriminately shooting and bombing civilians in the province from the air while pursuing insurgents.
Mozambique’s government has relied on private military contractors to help it fight the jihadists to date, despite numerous offers of assistance by foreign governments over the past two years.
On Wednesday the United Nations said more than 8,100 people from Palma, which had 75,000 inhabitants prior to Al-Shabaab's attack, had reached safety since the fighting began in the town nine days ago.
Thousands more are still making their way south from Palma by boat or on foot through the bush to the port town of Pemba, Cabo Delgado's provincial capital, where aid agencies have established camps to receive the refugees, said the UN.
Local television in the southern African country has recently been showing images of Mozambican troops being deployed to Palma, and although the town is said to be nearly deserted, the army has confirmed its troops are still involved in skirmishes with pockets of jihadists.
Palma is less than 10km away from a multi-billion euro liquid natural gas development led by French energy giant Total, which says it has halted work at its construction site until peace is restored to the area.
Al-Shabaab, which claims to be linked to the Islamic State terror group, has wreaked havoc in Cabo Delgado since it started its insurgency in 2017. More than 2,600 people, mostly civilians, have died in the conflict so far and around 700,000 have been internally displaced, according to the UN.