During 2015 security forces killed 157 Islamic terrorists, including ten veterans from the 1990s who had become leaders in the remaining Islamic terror groups in Algeria. This is mainly AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), which was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. Also captured were over 300 firearms and over 1,200 explosive devices (bombs, mortar shells, grenades, landmines). All the counter-terror activity along the borders resulted in even more weapons (nearly 700) from over 2,000 smugglers arrested. About a quarter of the smugglers were foreigners. Over a thousand smuggler vehicles were seized along with thousands of tons of goods (mostly food and fuel but also a lot of drugs). In addition to nearly 600 Islamic terrorist hideouts (often well camouflaged bunkers in the hilly forests along the coast) found and destroyed border patrols found hundreds of hidden storage sites for smuggled goods (waiting to be picked up and distributed inside Algeria). The anti-smuggling operations also hurt the Islamic terrorists, who survive on the cash generated by smuggling drugs. Hundreds of tons of drugs were seized in 2015.
For Islamic terrorists drug smuggling from the south via Mali and into Algeria is very important. Without this drug smuggling Islamic terrorists would not bother with such an out-of-the way place. It’s all about money, which even Islamic terrorists need to survive. Mali and Algeria are key components of a smuggling route from central Africa to Europe. The 2012 Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali triggered an international peacekeeping response in 2013 that made moving the drugs north via Mali more difficult and, for a time, nearly impossible. The Islamic terrorists operating in northern Mali must maintain access so they can enter and move through Algeria, to the coast and thence to Europe. Doing this is a major source of income for Islamic terrorist groups who will also use this network to move weapons and Islamic terrorists. Normally bribes would work to safely get through but the Islamic terrorism angle in northern Mali and Algeria means that fewer military or police officials will accept the money and the smugglers have to rely on skill and luck or firepower to get through. That often isn’t enough, as can be seen by the constant clashes on the border areas of northern Mali.
Another form of profitable smuggling is moving illegal migrants through Mali to Algeria. Other smugglers take these migrants to the Mediterranean coast and then to Europe. In December at least a thousand Syrians were noted travelling from the Mauritanian border north to Algeria. Business is booming for people smugglers in 2015 and these criminal gangs are believed to have made over a billion dollars in the last year getting Syrian and other Middle Eastern, African and Afghan migrants to Europe. It takes the efforts of multiple gangs to move these illegal travelers from their home country via many borders and physical obstacles to Europe. European nations are asking Algeria (and other North African states) to cooperate in identifying and sharing information on the criminal gangs (from Europe and North Africa) most active in the people smuggling, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are inclined to cooperate since some of these gangs work with drugs and cooperate with Islamic terrorists.
People smugglers are becoming more active in Algeria, as they are all along the North African coast. There is money to be made because European countries will not jail or send back illegal migrants and have even established a rescue service (of warships) in the Mediterranean so that the old and unreliable boats the smugglers use to take migrants to Europe have less to fear from storms or engines failing. As a result of this more Algerians are hiring smugglers to get them into Europe. At the same time Algeria detected nearly 17,000 illegal migrants enter from the south in 2015. Algeria has agreements with some of the countries these illegals come from which allows them to be sent back. In 2015 over 45 percent of the known illegals were caught and returned.
The government revealed that two Islamic terrorists killed a hundred kilometers east of the capital (Tizi Ouzou) on December 25th had been identified as veteran (from the 1990s) Islamic terrorists and one was a leader of AQIM. It was long believed that several senior AQIM leaders were hiding out in the Tizi Ouzou region and the army heavily patrols the area because of that. This army activity pays off as Tizi Ouzou is full of hidden terrorist hideouts and storage sites for weapons and bombs. Most of these supplies now come from Islamic terrorist groups in Libya and Tunisia and those borders are also more heavily patrolled. While most of the arrests on the borders are non-terrorist smugglers, every month smugglers with a terrorist connection or active Islamic terrorists are captured or killed. Mali is less of a problem, in part because it is much farther from the coast where most Algerians live and French troops are active along the Mali side of the border. Algeria and Mali cooperate closely on Islamic terrorist matters and this makes French and Algerian counter-terror operations on the Mali border much more effective. In Mali French troops are not only pursuing AQIM activity in the desert north but also local (like Ansar Dine) Islamic terrorist groups.
Aside from the persistent corruption Algeria has an even more serious economic problem with a growing shortage of money. The continued low oil price means Algeria is getting less than half the income from oil sales in 2015 compared to the same period in 2012, before the price of oil began to tumble. In 2015 the price of oil fell another 34 percent. This does a lot of damage to the economy but the government says it has a plan to cope. Algerians in general are coping. For example imports of luxury and “non-essentials” are down over 35 percent in 2015. This includes automobiles. The decline in oil income is likely to get worse in 2016. That is because once Iran resumes shipping oil because of the July 2015 treaty the oil price will sink lower for longer. In late 2014 Algeria prepared its budget for 2015 based on oil selling for an average of $37 a barrel (a price that was reached at the end of 2015). That follows price of oil falling 50 percent since 2013 (from $120 to $40 a barrel) in early 2015. The government only expects to receive $26 billion from oil and natural gas in 2016 and cash reserves will shrink to $121 billion by the end of that year. These reserves already dipped to $151 billion at the end of 2015.
After years of negotiations Algeria has ordered a dozen Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers to replace aging Mig-25s. This is part of a $7.5 billion weapons purchasing program to upgrade a lot of older gear. The army is getting 300 new Russian T-90 tanks and 1,200 German wheeled armored personnel carriers. Russia and Germany are also providing new warships for the navy and dozens of Russian Su-30 warplanes. Most of the weapons are coming from Russia. Russia offers low prices and a tolerant attitude towards corruption and bribes. Plus, the Russian stuff looks impressive and is not likely to be used in any serious fighting because Algeria is surrounded by weaker nations.
January 2, 2016: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers found and destroyed three terrorist hideouts.
December 25, 2015: About a hundred kilometers east of the capital (Tizi Ouzou) soldiers ambushed some armed Islamic terrorists and killed two of them.