Monday, 22 November 2010

Algeria's problems in the Sahel mount

Last week's issue reported on how Algeria's difficulties in the Sahel were mounting. The problem was that the countries of the Sahel, notably Mali and Mauritania, were undertaking military operations, in the form of patrols and exercises, against AQIM in disregard of Algeria and the Joint Command set up by the four countries (Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger) in Tamanrasset.

In short, the Sahel countries, seemingly supported by France, were showing that they could operate quite independently of Algeria in the fight against AQIM. Algeria, as we have been explaining over the last few months, has been trying to establish itself as the military hegemony in the region thereby excluding both Morocco and Libya.

Last week saw not only a continuation of such military co-operation between Mauritania and Mali, albeit perhaps on a small scale in terms of the number of troops and amount of equipment involved, but, and far more damaging for Algeria, a proliferation of media articles in both countries extolling the virtues of their new partnership, which was illustrated by the visit last week of Mali's army chief of staff, General Gabriel Poudiougou, to Nouakchott.

The daily newspapers are giving this new rapprochement big headlines. Mauritania's La Tribune, for example, carried a full-page story under the title 'War against AQIM: Mali and Mauritania team up,' saying 'the Mauritanian forces (have) committed to combat terrorism since mid-September in northern Mali with joint patrols, composed of elements from Mali and Mauritania, who are going through northern Mali in search of AQIM bands.' The daily Nouakchott-Info also reported on the visit of General Poudiougou, with a front page headline: 'Visit of the head of the Malian army: Nouakchott and Bamako unite against AQIM.' The daily Le Rénovateur described the alliance between Nouakchott and Bamako as 'a new bulwark against terrorism.'

The Mauritanian and Malian media are rubbing in what is effectively a direct snub to Algeria. And the message is clear: 'We can manage without Algeria'.

To make matters worse, Morocco is also cashing in on this new 'diplomatic encirclement' of Algeria. It is arguing that some of the recent 'drug busts' in Morocco, the veracity of which cannot be easily established, are linked to AQIM. In other words, Morocco is sending out clear messages to the international community that AQIM is responsible for much of the drug trafficking between the Sahel and Morocco, but that Algeria is excluding it from all participation in attempts to get to grips with al-Qa'ida in the Sahel. In short, Morocco is saying that if Algeria is not directly aiding and abetting terrorism in the region, it is certainly making its eradication extremely difficult by excluding countries such as Morocco from the initiatives that are being designed (and so far failing) to put an end to it.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

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