Failed security cooperation leads to border problems in Sahel

Although Sahel countries have met to discuss regional security issues, these efforts have failed to take into account the reality on the ground and the situation on the borders has deteriorated.

al-monitor Nigerian soldiers receive military theory training from British soldiers (not pictured) during Flintlock 2014, a US-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, March 3, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Joe Penney.

Topics covered

al-qaeda, terrorism, sahel region, moammar gadhafi, mali, libya, algeria

May 27, 2014

The approach of the Sahel countries in dealing with security issues seems to be based on a joint security strategy to fight terrorism and protect borders, which does not take into account evidence on the ground. It seems that this strategy exists only in the successive meetings that have been held; otherwise Algeria would not have been where it is now, with security threats on its border with Mali and Libya.

The security indicators along Algeria’s borders, especially its borders with Libya and Mali, suggest that the security cooperation that was put forth by the region’s countries did not come out of the meeting rooms. This is despite the fact that countries affiliated with the African Union — such as Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria — joined the so-called “union of coordination and communication,” following emergence of the Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram and the expansion of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the proliferation of its affiliated groups.

As for Algeria, the eminent threat is coming from its eastern border because of the dire conditions on its border with Libya, despite the statement of former Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, who confirmed [in the] weeks following the killing of Moammar Gadhafi that “Algeria will not be affected by the proliferation of Libya's weapons.” He also confirmed that “the flow of Libyan arms [onto] Algerian soil is merely exaggerated allegations.”

However, the facts on the ground prove otherwise. This is not to mention the lack of security control and the misevaluation of risks, which have become very visible following the army’s operation on the border to intercept the infiltration attempt on the part of multinational armed groups into Algerian territories.

“The security coordination between Algeria, Libya and Mali is inevitable,” said security expert Mohammed Khelfawi, a retired intelligence officer. He added to El-Khabar that “the deteriorating situation in these countries makes the security cooperation efforts unrealistic to some extent. However, we can deal with things by cooperation with some actors and actives parties on our borders.”

He also confirmed that the “the deteriorating security situation in Libya will adversely affect Algeria. The border between the two countries is plagued with the crisis of the displaced people and its consequent results on both countries. This is not to mention the issue of weapons smuggling, and the monitoring all the concerned parties involved in providing aid such the non-governmental organizations.”

“The infiltration attempts on the part of armed groups either from Libya or Mali will not stop. Moreover, the security preventive measures in this regard are not sufficient to solve this problem, even if the state has good military potentials,” he said.

In late 2009, Algeria formed a security alliance with Mali, Niger and Mauritania known as the Alliance of the Sahel Chiefs of Staff. However, this coalition was put to the test following the decision by Paris to intervene in north Mali to expel terrorist groups from the region in January 2013.

The French intervention took place despite the fact that the fact that the agreement between the Sahel countries clearly rejected any foreign intervention in the region under the pretext of tracking terrorist groups in the desert, which necessitates a true security alliance on the ground. However, this coalition failed to achieve its proposed goals, especially as Algeria became preoccupied with it internal security situation on its border. This is not to mention that the biggest part of the mission of getting rid of terrorist groups of the region fell on the Algerian army, given the fact that it is five times bigger than the armies of the coalition combined.

Algeria was further convinced of this fact following the attacks of Tigantourine in January 2013. Nevertheless, the recent development in the security situation on the border with Libya and Mali pushed the country to reconsider the strategy of security cooperation.

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