Algerian Army Mobilizes on South, East Borders

Article Summary
In a sign that there may be renewed terrorist activity along its borders, the Algerian army has mobilized its troops in what look to be pre-emptive measures.

Algeria has raised the alert level of its troops along its southern and eastern border. This suggests that there are plans to target the country, which prompted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to end the period of rest he was observing and meet with the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Kaid Salih twice in less than a week. In parallel, security arrangements were made on the ground along the Algerian border.

Algeria is focusing on its eastern and southern neighbors, in a way that the task of “securing the border” has become the country’s first priority. This carries concerns indicating that the relevant authorities have reports confirming that there is a danger coming from the border. For this reason, Bouteflika, who is ill, met twice with Salih and multiple times with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, to discuss the situation and give instructions to strengthen border security through arrangements tighter than those made ​​by the army during the French military intervention in northern Mali.

In conjunction with those meetings, there were talks that go beyond “fighting terrorism” and resemble “reactions to a potential external aggression,” and that do not differ from the language used by Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci on Canal Algerie TV on Sept 9. Medelci stressed that the importance of “staying vigilant and assuming the responsibility to protect our country, while cooperating with neighboring countries in this regard.” One day following his meeting with Bouteflika, accompanied by Sellal, Medelci said, “We are working with the Libyans, Tunisians, Nigerians and Mauritanians, in addition to other Sahel region countries.” He also confirmed that Bouteflika attaches “great importance” to this issue and frequently hosts the chief of staff of the People's National Army to discuss these issues.

The official “reaction” in terms of border security indicates that this issue has become Bouteflika’s “most important” concern. It is equally or even more important than the problems that accompany the back-to-school season, and more important than the cabinet’s meetings, which usually decide on such issues. The new language has clearly resulted from efforts to tighten the security grip, in the eyes of an authority that believes that “the attack in Tigantourine will not be repeated at any cost.” 

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This message was understood by the petroleum companies’ executives (and political guardians), which evacuated the gas field in Tigantourine after the January 2013 attack. Thus, they decided to return after receiving assurances from the authorities reached during talks held in the past few weeks. The talks ended with a decision by British Petroleum (BP), which operates in the gas field with the Norwegian oil giant Statoil, to return to Algeria. Britain's ambassador to Algeria Martin Roper said on Sunday, Sept. 8, that BP employees will soon return to Algeria. For this purpose, a British delegation came to Algeria. 

The Algerian authorities realized that the French intervention in northern Mali to expel terrorist groups was only the beginning of a new battle against terrorism, or against those who use terrorism to develop plans to destroy the sovereignty of countries. This is because a terrorist threat greater than the one in the past has produced terrorist alliances enabling the Masked Brigade — led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, also known as Laaouar, the mastermind of the attack in the town of In Amenas — and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, to be unified in a new group called al-Mourabitoun, to expand terrorist activity and establish an Islamic state.

The new security alert, which prompted Bouteflika to meet the media outside the walls of the Muradiya presidential palace, suggests that the Algerian position is “in a state of despair” about the effectiveness of allied countries in thwarting the movements of terrorist groups in the Sahel region. (The Algerian army has more equipment and troops than the armies of the other five countries in the Sahel region.) Algeria has preferred to direct its efforts toward the internal arena and to promote its border security, rather than dissipating its capabilities in a barren desert, to no avail, while focusing on pursuing active members in various parts of the country. Algerian state TV has recently attached greater importance to news about eliminating terrorists. At the same time, the army is issuing statements on the outcomes of efforts to combat terrorism.

There is another fact that stands behind the focus on border security, which is the largest in history, except perhaps that witnessed when late President Houari Boumediene tightened the country’s security along the border during the Algerian-Moroccan conflict. This has to do with the attempt by terrorist groups to restore their presence, by fleeing northern Mali into southern Libya and using the region as a new sanctuary. This has raised the fears of even the European Union, in the light of a statement by Gilles de Kerchove, EU counter-terrorism coordinator, in the Wahran province in June, stating that the threat of terrorism will also come from southern Libya. 

Yet, Kerchove did not expect the eastern gap to draw the attention of not only Algeria and Tunisia. This “surprising” fact caused the troops to be mobilized at the border, following the growing activity of terrorist groups in Jebel ech Chambi and their attacks against the Tunisian army. These attacks resulted in casualties among Tunisian troops, and prompted the Algerian army to send ground and air reinforcements to protect the border, in addition to the units stationed at the border with Libya. Although these reinforcements are designed to support the fronts on the ground against terrorism, they reflect the authorities’ view that there are medium-term plans to target the country, among Arab and regional targets. This is in light of reports that have been circulating that Tunisia has accepted a US offer to establish camps to combat terrorism on Tunisian territory adjacent to Algeria. Yet, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry was quick to deny those reports.

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Found in: tunisia, terrorism, military operation, military, borders, border, algeria
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