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» 15.07.2009 - China warns of Al Qaeda reprisals
» 05.02.2009 - Tuareg rebels beg for Algeria's mediation
» 20.08.2008 - UN condemns Algeria blast











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Algeria | Mali
Politics

Algeria, Mali distrust over al Qaeda fight

Algerian troops defiling in the north

© Afrodor/Wikipedia/afrol News
afrol News, 13 December
- The government of Mali is seen as the largest obstacle to conduct an effective fight against Al Qaeda groups in the Sahara desert. Distrust between Algeria and Mali further hinder cooperation.

Diplomatic cables from several US embassies, published by Wikileaks, reveal that the announced concerted fight against Al Qaeda in the Sahara and Sahel region is moving ahead slowly. Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger had announced a joint effort to hit back at the terrorists.

William Ward, commander of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), visited Algeria in November 2009 and was left to meet with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika himself. President Bouteflika welcomed the deepening "strategic partnership" between the US and Algeria, based on a common interest in fighting terrorism.

The top issue at the meeting was the long-announced regional anti-terrorism cooperation. President Bouteflika made it clear to the top US military leader Algeria was taking a lead in these efforts. "Mali's full cooperation remained elusive, however," the Algerian President was quoted as saying.

"Mali's policies have failed to create stability in the north. The result is a lawless environment in which smuggling, along with arms and drug trafficking, enable terrorism," President Bouteflika had continued.

General Ward informed the President he would visit the Malian capital Bamako after Algiers. Mr Bouteflika urged Mr Ward to tell Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré that "he cannot be a friend to the thieves and victims at the same time."

Algeria was providing military support to Mali, but President Touré was not being firm against the Al Qaeda terrorists. In the past, President Bouteflika said, Algeria had waited for the chance to debrief terrorist suspects held in Mali, only to find out later that Malian officials were conducting negotiations for the terrorist's release back to Al Qaeda at the same time. "It is difficult to cooperate in these conditions," he was quoted as saying.

Also Algerian Vice-Minister of Defence Abdelmalik Guenaizia in a meeting with the US Ambassador held Malian authorities responsible for the lack of progress. With the armed forces of the four countries establishing a regional command in Tamanrasset, the military had done their job and now politicians needed to do their job, Mr Guenaizia held.

Mr Guenaizia told the US Ambassador that the situation in northern Mali presented "the greatest obstacle to combating terrorism." The nexus of arms, drug and contraband smuggling in northern Mali created an enabling en

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

© Sophie Paris/UN Photo/afrol News
vironment, Mr Guenaizia argued, and provided a source of logistical and financial support.

"Trust was an issue with Mali," he added. Although Algeria had provided materiel and training support to Mali to help resolve the Tuareg issue, it was not inclined to give Mali weapons and communications gear because of concerns that such equipment might be trafficked to Côte d'Ivoire or Guinea, Mr Guenaizia had said.

Mali sees problem in Algeria
Later on, in Mali, General Ward met with President Touré, who lamented that regional security cooperation appeared "to be stalled." While Niger and Mauritania were "good partners" for Mali, "military cooperation with Algeria is the problem," President Touré told the US Commander.

The Malian President, according to the wire, "said the Algerians think we do not do anything, and they are not totally wrong, but we need Algeria's help in terms of air support. It is not just a matter of destroying a couple of [Al Qaeda] bases, we have to be able to hold the territory. The longer the situation drags on, the stronger the Salafists will get."

President Touré revealed that he shared the widespread Malian distrust in Algeria and Algerian troops. The Malian President told General Ward he believed Algeria's intelligence services and army were holding up cooperation, and believed "the Algerian army is infiltrated with Salafists." There is a widespread rumour in Mali that the Algerian military intelligence itself runs the Al Qaeda in a push to increase its influence.

President Touré however was seeing some progress, much thanks to enhanced US military cooperation and training of Malian troops, but also due to the end of a Tuareg rebellion in the north. He was further optimist about the holding of a regional security summit in Bamako within short time.

Low Western profile
Meanwhile, wires from the US embassy in Paris reveal that the US and its European allies wanted to do far more than just facilitating regional Sahel-Sahara military cooperation. Especially France wanted to assist Mali to establish four forward operating bases in its northern frontier, improve local administration in the north and forward judicial reform.

US and European diplomats agreed it was necessary to keep a low profile and visibility in the anti-terrorism fight in the Sahel. US Assistant Secretary of S

Amadou Toumani Touré, President of Mali

© Evan Schneider/UN Photo/afrol News
tate Johnnie Carson said "We don't want to become part of the problem by appearing to take the lead; we need to lead from the side, not from out front." French presidential adviser Remi Marechaux noted that the Sahara Al Qaeda profile needed to be kept low so as not to promote potential recruitment.

Western diplomats agreed that, while both Niger and Mauritania were lacking capacities in the fight against terrorism, there was great "political will". Algeria was poised to take the regional lead. In Mali, however, there were both "capacity constraints" and there were "questions about the government's willingness to confront and engage [Al Qaeda] militarily."

The analysis concluded there were "clear indications that [Al Qaeda] maintains a degree of impunity within its northern Mali 'sanctuaries'." US Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin noted that Mali "is perhaps becoming more helpful," but French speakers at the meeting had referred to the Malian position as "ambiguous" and "enigmatic".

A further concern was the increasingly improving funding of Al Qaeda groups in the Malian desert. The terrorists were making "greater inroads into the West African narcotics trade," US and French intelligence had found. According to military sources in Algeria, wealthy and powerful families in Mali were involved in this business and a Malian bank was facilitating money transfers.

Still no Bamako security summit
Since the US cables from late 2009, distrust in the region went from bad to worse. In February 2010, the government of Mali freed four suspected terrorists in exchange for a French hostage held by Al Qaeda. Algeria and Mauritania subsequently withdrew their Bamako ambassadors in protest.

The planned "Bamako of the Conference of Heads of State on peace, security and development in the Sahel-Saharan region" - which originally was to be held in 2009 to formalise the security cooperation on a political level - has still not been organised. On the contrary, Mauritania has even demanded that the venue of the summit be anywhere else than Mali.

The summit has been off the agenda since March this year, as a downscaled foreign minister conference was held in Algiers. The main outcome of that conference was an "unequivocal" condemnation of "the payment of ransom and hostage taking," clearly directed towards Mali.



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