Monday, 16 April 2012

Algerian troops in Mali

The linkage of the alleged Aguelhok executions to Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the DRS raises two significant questions:

What was the Algerian army doing in Aguelhok?
Was the West complicit?
Troops on the move

Algerian armed forces crossed into Mali on 20 December. While the Algerian government eventually admitted that 15 military instructors had been sent to Mali, local observers reported an Algerian army convoy of five army trucks with trailers and 24 heavily armed 4x4s heading south on the Bordj Mokhtar–Tessalit– Aguelhok road. The number of troops was not given but can be assumed at around 200.

The same sources confirmed Algerian troops were garrisoned at the army bases in both Tessalit and Aguelhok. In addition, an army transport was seen flying into Kidal. It contained an unspecified number of Algerian army officers and was reportedly heavily armed. What were these troops doing in Aguelhok and had they been withdrawn to Algeria by the time of the alleged executions? The official reason given by Algeria for its troop presence was to help Mali combat AQIM. That was untrue, however, as no attacks have been launched at any time against AQIM in Mali by either Malian or Algerian forces.

All the signs are that the Algerian army wasn't here to protect AQIM from any assault on it by the MNLA, which has threatened to rid Mali of AQIM. As the MNLA has stated, AQIM is a cover for the billion-dollar cocaine trafficking industry, which is controlled by elements of the political-military elites and their security services in both Mali and Algeria. While the MNLA's secessionist demands may be a threat to Mali's sovereignty, the most serious threat is to the continued presence of AQIM in Mali and the lucrative state-run cocaine business. Indeed, if Mali were not such a close client state of Washington, it is likely that it would already have been labelled a narco-state.

Western complicity?

The second question concerns the matter of complicity. The line of reasoning is as follows. If Abdelhamid Abou Zaïd and AQIM were involved in executions at Aguelhok, the DRS is implicated and its allies and backers, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, may also be deemed complicit. Both US and UK intelligence services are aware of the DRSled AQIM training camp in the Tassili-n-Ajjer. Thus, if Malian soldiers were executed at Aguelhok by AQIM, the people who undertook the executions were under or closely associated with Abou Zaïd's command and almost certainly trained in such methods at the DRS-managed AQIM training camp. If an international enquiry were to establish such a chain, then how far could Western allies of the DRS be held accountable? That question makes a full investigation of what took place at Aguelhok unlikely.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

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