Monday, 27 September 2010

Latest news about French hostages and the Political repercussions in Algeria

The latest news on the situation from France's senior military officer, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, (via AFP) is that “France has no plans to use force to rescue [the] five hostages held in the Sahara by al-Qa'ida and wants to negotiate with the militant group.

“Military intervention is not, at the moment I am speaking to you, on the agenda," he told Europe 1 radio. "Of course, French authorities are ready to make contact at any moment, the only problem we have is that, as is usual in this kind of matter, it is the hostage takers who control the timetable," he said.

On 23rd September, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin revealed that France was attempting to get in touch with al-Qa'ida to discover if they have any ransom demands following the hostage taking.

Such incidents can have unforeseen consequences. One relates to the long-running 'story' of the 'secret US base' at Tamanrasset, built by Halliburton's corrupt and now closed subsidiary Brown Root Condor Spa (BRC). The 'story', first documented around 2003, that the US had acquired secret basing rights in Algeria's extreme south, has never gained much traction within Algeria itself. That is largely because the story has been raised mostly in international and predominantly English-language media.

However, on Friday (24th September) the Algerian daily El Watan, picking up on this story in France's Le Canard Enchaîné (CE), revealed to the Algerian public that 400 US troops were stationed at a US secret base [outside Tamanrasset] in Algeria's extreme south. Such a story, if true, would be political dynamite. Coming from Algeria's most respected daily, the story, now finally drawn to the attention of the Algerian public, appears to be causing political ructions.

How and why El Watan published the story is intriguing, and says much for the dangers of both the US and Algeria never having told the whole truth about the base. Hence, rumours and false information flourish. El Watan's figure of 400 US troops comes from an unverified media report from 2003 or thereabouts, which has been regurgitated on an almost annual basis. (Journalists rarely check their sources!). Certainly, it is true that the base does exist, with building having begun around the year 2000, and that the US has used it at various times.

In spite of denials, there is a secret agreement between the US and Algeria which grants the US certain user rights, etc. At one time, about 400 US forces were in the region, with many of them being based temporarily at the base or transiting through it. It is also almost certainly true that a small number of US personnel are based there more or less permanently to man electronic listening and surveillance equipment.

El Watan , we believe, took the story from CE, which in turn dug up the figure of 400US troops from its archives and added them to a Special Report written earlier this week by UPI and published in several media on 23rd September. The very speculative UPI report states: “It is from there [the Tamanrasset base] that the French surveillance aircraft hunting the jihadists and their captives are probably operating.” That may be correct, although most reports have the French air search operating out of Niamey.

This story, of questionable accuracy, looks as if it might finally gain traction within Algeria and thus add to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's internal political problems, as the way the El Watan story is running suggests that he was the key architect in granting this 'secret facility' to the Americans. In the last 24 hours, the story has received wide coverage through Al Jazeera (Arabic) and possibly other Arab-language channels.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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