Algeria: Chasing Ghosts

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March 30, 2017: Islamic terrorism isn’t what it used to be in Algeria. A visible sign of the changes can be seen in media coverage which is more concerned with traffic deaths (over 3,300 in 2016) than those caused by Islamic terrorism. That’s because there are 17 times more traffic deaths and nearly all the Islamic terrorism related deaths are Islamic terrorists themselves. Very few civilians or security personnel are killed by Islamic terrorists anymore. Back in the 1990s, there were more Islamic terrorism related deaths than traffic deaths in some years and most of the deaths were civilians killed by Islamic terrorists or security forces.

While Islamic terrorists are still operating in Algeria they no longer terrorize like they used to. That’s why more people are coming forward with information on current or past Islamic terrorist activity. Most of the bunkers and Islamic terrorist supporters now found in the countryside are the result of tips from locals who feel safe enough (from Islamic terrorist retaliation) to mention what they know. Because of this the security forces are clearing out the remaining areas where Islamic terrorists are still active. This is mainly Boumerdes, Bouira, Tizi Ouzou and Jijel provinces east of the capital as well as the far south where border areas with Mali, Niger and Libya are very active with smugglers and a far smaller number of Islamic terrorists.

Libya

Algeria is seen as the major reason why the main factions in Libya are still talking to each other. Algeria has not provided any material support to any faction and provides a convenient and safe place to hold the frequent meetings between faction officials and diplomats from the UN and neighboring countries. Algeria has provided similar assistance for Mali.

Algeria and Egypt are under a lot of pressure from the UN to get behind the GNA (Government of National Accord) which the UN organized in 2015 but has been unable to convince all Libyans to support. Egypt sees GNA as too cozy with Islamic conservative groups. Algeria feels the same way as do many Tunisians. These attitudes have been made public as leaders from Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt have met several times since 2012 to discuss Libya and continue to agree that none of them wants to intervene militarily (on a large scale) to deal with the chaos next door. But at the same time all three nations, which have long borders with Libya, will cooperate with whatever faction is controlling the Libyan side of the border and will work to keep Islamic terrorists from freely moving back and forth across the border. Thus Egypt has become very close to the HoR (elected House of Representatives that GNA replaced) government while Tunisia is on good terms with both the GNA and pro-HoR groups who have worked with Tunisia to control Islamic terrorism, especially ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Tunisia noted that general Hiftar (the HoR military leader) keeping ISIL out of eastern Libya while pro-GNA militias drove ISIL out of their new base in Sirte by the end of 2016. All this greatly reduced ISIL activity in Tunisia. Algeria noted the same thing and all three neighboring countries have increased their border security to contain the lawlessness that still predominates throughout Libya.

The GNA has not ignored neighborhood politics and has recently sent officials to Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Russia to make their case for being the only national government in Libya. These officials came back with vague promises to help and some blunt assessments by foreigners about what HoR does right especially compared to GNA efforts. The GNA is also advised to make more of an effort to reconcile their differences with HoR, especially when it comes to general Hiftar.

The Economic Time Bomb Ticks On

The government, mindful of what happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when rising unemployment and falling oil prices led to widespread unrest and eventually a Islamic terrorist uprising, is making a major effort to cushion the population from the impact of the current (and apparently long-term) decline in oil prices. There is also talk of doing something about the corruption, but not much action.

The government cut their budget 17 percent in 2017 after a nine percent cut in 2016. The cuts are necessary to reduce the budget deficit (8 percent of GDP in 2017 versus 15 percent for 2016). There are limits on how long these deficits can be tolerated. The deficits are covered by drawing on cash reserves (essential to pay for imports, especially food) built up (to about $200 billion) before 2013. In 2015 these reserves fell 22 percent to $143 billion and in 2016 another 20 percent to $114 billion. Given the uncertain efforts are being made to reduce reserves only about ten percent depending on the price of oil. Current estimates are that the foreign exchange reserves can be drawn on for another six or seven years (supplemented by some foreign loans). After that severe cuts will have to be made and there will be much unrest. To avoid that the government has actually addressed (or at least admitted to) problems like corruption and mismanagement that have long crippled the economy and created popular discontent. This led to the Islamic terrorist uprising of the 1990s that was defeated but not forgotten. The Islamic radicals still have supporters, especially among men under age 30 (about 30 percent of whom are unemployed). The government has tried, especially since 2010, to reduce the youth unemployment rate but so far has not had much success. But the government still has a chance because economic reforms have enabled Algeria to keep GDP growing despite the price of oil dropping fifty percent in the last three years and not showing any sign of increasing.

March 28, 2017: In the southeast (Illizi Province) troops patrolling the Libyan border came upon and arrested a known Islamic terrorists in a border town.

March 26, 2017: In Oran (430 kilometers west of the capital) police arrested an ISIL recruiter and three younger men who had agreed to go to Syria as soon as the recruiter could arrange transportation. The recruiter was identified and tracked down because of his activity on social media. Police had earlier found and eliminated another ISIL recruitment network in an operation that led to nine arrests and prosecutions. Only about fifteen ISIL members were killed in Algeria during 2016 and nearly all once belonged to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), which was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. ISIL has been largely on the defensive in Algeria in 2016 with most members concentrating on recruiting. The only active group (still carrying out attacks) is east of the capital near the Tunisian border.

In Tizi Ouzou (120 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers found four homemade bombs plus components for additional bombs. No one was around to arrest and this material may have been left in hiding for some time.

March 25, 2017: In Constantine province (400 kilometers from the capital) police caught up with and killed Abu Hammam, the leaders of the Algerian branch of ISIL. Another ISIL member was with Hammam and also died in a brief gun battle. Hammam was believed directly responsible for planning or even carrying out the ISIL attacks in this area over the last two years. The pistol Hammam carried when he was killed was later identified as the same one used in the murder of a policeman in late 2016.

March 24, 2017: In Tizi Ouzou (120 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers found a cache of recently stored Islamic terrorist gear, including an assault rifle, ammo, food and lots of medical supplies.

March 23, 2017: Near the Tunisian border (Tebessa province, 650 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers found and destroyed eight bombs that were located due to a tip.

In the far south (Tamanrasset, 2,000 kilometers south of the capital) a known Islamic terrorist surrendered to soldiers and brought along his weapons and ammo.

March 19, 2017: In Boumerdes province (55 kilometers east of the capital) troops found and destroyed four bunkers apparently used recently by Islamic terrorists. In Sidi Bel Abbès province (370 kilometers west of the capital) troops arrested seven civilians belonging to an Islamic terrorist support group.

March 18, 2017: Near Ain Defla (100 kilometers west of the capital) soldiers found and destroyed fifteen bunkers. Some of these had been used recently because food and equipment were found in them. The next day an Islamic terrorism supporter was arrested nearby.

March 17, 2017: In Tizi Ouzou (120 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers found and destroyed five bunkers built by Islamic terrorists for shelters and storing equipment. Like most of these bunkers found in the last few years these had not been used for some time. Elsewhere in the area three civilians belonging to an Islamic terrorist support group were arrested.

March 16, 2017: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers clashed with two Islamic terrorists and killed them. Troops seized two assault rifles, ammo and equipment from the dead men.

March 14, 2017: Troops searching rural areas east of the capital found evidence of Islamic terrorist activity in four areas. Found and destroyed were six bunkers, six bombs and two improvised cannon. Most of this stuff was found in Boumerdes province (55 kilometers east of the capital) and Bouira province (120 kilometers southeast of the capital)

March 11, 2017: In Bordj Bou Arreridj province (200 kilometers east of the capital) troops killed two Islamic terrorists and arrested to members of an Islamic terrorist support group. Weapons and equipment were seized.

March 9, 2017: Tunisia and Algeria signed nine cooperation agreements, most of them economic. The two countries already have several security cooperation agreements to deal with the remaining Islamic terrorists in the region.

March 6, 2017: In Boumerdes province (55 kilometers east of the capital) troops killed two Islamic terrorists and captured two others.

February 26, 2017: In Constantine province (400 kilometers from the capital) an ISIL suicide bomber tried to attack a police station but was shot dead before he could get close enough to do much damage. The bomber died in the explosion and two policemen were wounded. Several hours later two ISIL gunmen fired on another police station but the police fired back and the Islamic terrorists fled. This was the first ISIL attack in Algeria since October 2016 in the same general areas. Back then three ISIL gunmen killed a police officer in a restaurant and stole his weapon. That was only the second ISIL attack in Algeria for 2016. The other incident took place in March.

February 25, 2017: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) soldiers encountered a known Islamic terrorist and killed him after a brief gun battle. The dead man was armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a grenade. In nearby areas troops found and destroyed Islamic terrorist bunkers.

February 12, 2017: Algeria and Mali have agreed to allow Algerian telecommunications companies to offer Internet and cell phone services in Mali.

 

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