Algeria: Things That Go Boom In The Night

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August 15, 2016: As troops and police continue searching for Islamic terrorists in the usual places (remote areas along the coast or near border zones frequently used by smugglers) they are finding fewer actual Islamic terrorists but a lot of their hiding places and supplies of weapons, ammo and explosives stockpiled for future use. A lot of these caches no longer have an owner because the men that set them up are all dead or have fled the country. Bits of information from dead, captured or surrendered Islamic terrorists provides clues where cashes still exist. This information is valuable as gangsters and smugglers can sell weapons, ammo and bombs on the black market. Some of the stashed weapons and ammo actually belongs to smugglers who will usually sell it to anyone who can pay. Fortunately Islamic terrorist stashes often contain clues (documents, markings on items) indicating who owns the stuff. In some areas the local police have developed contacts with local smuggling gangs who are willing to provide useful information on Islamic terrorists in return for help in getting non-lethal goods across the border. While weapons and drugs bring the highest profits to smugglers, they can make a living on consumer goods, fuel and food if they can make a deal with the security forces to leave them alone. Often such arrangements are made, although it is technically illegal to do so. But if the government is desperate enough to catch or locate some Islamic terrorists then exceptions will be made.

The Local Arms Race

Media in neighboring Morocco revealed that the army had, in early July, received the first of 200 refurbished American M-1 tanks that had been ordered in 2012. That order was in response to a 2007 Algerian plan to spend $7.5 billion program to upgrade a lot of Cold War era weapons and equipment. The Algerian 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, which also provided most of the Cold War stuff. 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 nations that have been generally non-threatening for a long time.

Algeria and Morocco have long been rivals and that often led to threats of war but it never went far. The fear of war remains, thus the arms race. Despite these tensions Morocco and Algeria cooperate on counter-terrorism issues. That means sharing information and coordinating some security operations along the border. For example early this month Morocco informed Algeria that it was increasing is security along some areas of the border because it believed some ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) personnel were planning to move to from Libya to Morocco via Algeria.

Deadly Ghosts From Times Long Past

The government reported that the military had removed 866 landmines in July. Some 840,000 landmines have been found and removed since 2004. Army personnel find and clear these mines along the eastern and western borders. Many of these mines date back to the 1950s and 1960s. The landmine search has been was more stressful than the terrorist sweeps and gets a lot less publicity. The number of mines cleared each month increased dramatically in 2007 when the French finally turned over the colonial era maps of the minefields. France planted over three million mines in the late 1950s. The 1,200 kilometers of mine fields were created to make it more difficult for Algerian rebels moving across the Tunisian and Moroccan borders. Most of those mine fields are in remote areas and have never been cleared. But each year those tending herds in the border areas are killed or injured by the mines as are their animals. The mines in more traveled areas were removed soon after Algeria became independent in the 1960s. But now with accurate maps of the mine fields, the mines in remote areas can be cleared. That has been expensive, as the mines are now covered with more sand, or have shifted position because of rain and wind. The mine field maps were never a major issue between the two countries and France never offered to provide them until 2007 when the French army saw an opportunity to improve its relationship with Algeria. Since the 1950s, the French army has been particularly hated by Algerians, because of the rough tactics used during the late 1950s and early 1960s, before France finally left. But over the decades, the anger has abated. Before 2007 over a hundred Algerians were killed or wounded by these old mines each year. These losses have been greatly reduced since 2007 because the French maps enabled the government to warn people living in remote border areas where (in general) the uncleared mines were and to keep themselves and their animals away. Currently mines are being cleared at the rate of over 15,000 a year. Most (83 percent) of the mines found are the anti-personnel variety designed to kill or maim an individual who steps on it. The rest of the mines are usually larger anti-vehicle mines or “flare mines” that release a bright flare into that air and alert nearby troops that someone is coming through an area they should not be in.

August 14, 2016: In the far south (Tamanrasset, 2,000 kilometers south of the capital) soldiers, acting on information from locals and recently surrendered Islamic terrorists found at least three arms caches near the area where the Niger and Mali borders intersect with Algeria. This has long been a popular area for smugglers and Islamic terrorists moving between the three countries.

August 13, 2016: In Boumerdes province (55 kilometers east of the capital) troops found and destroyed five homemade rocket launchers and three bombs found during a search of the Sidi Ali Bounab forest, an area where Islamic terrorists have been hiding out since the 1990s.

August 11, 2016: In the east, near the Tunisian border, troops and police were on alert as Tunisian security forces carried out a large and noisy (from many mortar and artillery shells) counter-terror operation overnight in Kasserine province. This area is mountainous and sparsely populated and long a hideout for Islamic terrorists.

August 9, 2016: In Boumerdes province (55 kilometers east of the capital) troops found and destroyed two homemade landmines that had been hidden and not planted yet.

August 7, 2016: Near the town of Tamanrasset (2,000 kilometers south of the capital) an Islamic terrorist surrendered to the police and brought with him his loaded assault rifle. This is the forth such surrender in this area so far this month. Islamic terrorists who voluntarily surrender, especially if they bring a weapon and information with them, can expect much better treatment and often amnesty and little time in jail.

August 6, 2016: In the east (Skikda province, 510 kilometers from the capital) soldiers found a stash of weapons and explosives that included two landmines and two locally made bombs to be used for roadside attacks. These rifles and ammo were removed but the four explosive devices were blown up. When explosive devices are found in remote areas it is safer to just blow them up. The alternative is the much riskier effort disable the devices and take them apart. That sometimes leads to unwanted explosions, a problem the Islamic terrorists often have with locally built bombs and landmines.

August 5, 2016: In the east (Khenchela province) four civilians were killed by a roadside bomb placed by Islamic terrorists. This area is near the Tunisian border and some of these roadside bombs are rigged to go off automatically when any vehicle passes. Civilians are rarely the targets and are usually hit by accident.

In the capital government officials signed a deal with an Italian firm (SPA-Italy) to assemble civilian and military helicopters in Algeria. Most of the components will come from Europe but the Algerian made helicopters will be sold to civilian and military customers in North Africa.

July 29, 2016: Algerian diplomats are in Egypt for meetings between the major Libyan factions in an attempt to negotiate compromise deals that will enable a national government to function in Libya. There is general agreement that Libya’s neighbors Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt are eager to make honest efforts to achieve peace in Libya. The main problem is that too many Libyans are not nearly as willing to do what’s best for Libya.

July 27, 2016: In Tizi Ouzou (120 kilometers east of the capital) and other adjacent areas (Boumerdes and Bejaia) army patrols found 33 Islamic terrorist bunkers and hiding places over the last two days. Some weapons and explosives were found but most of the bunkers were empty and appeared to have been unused for a long time. No Islamic terrorists were encountered.

 

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