Algeria: Cocaine And EP-3s Are Killing Al Qaeda

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December 25, 2010: For most of this month, some 4,000 soldiers and police have been searching areas east of the capital, killing or capturing nearly a hundred al Qaeda members and finding over 20 hideouts and camps. The security forces believe they have destroyed a major part of the al Qaeda network, and gathered information leading to the surviving members of al Qaeda in North Africa. A key factor in the success of this sweep has been the American EP-3 electronic monitoring aircraft (based in Rota, Spain), which have been flying patrols over suspected terrorist base areas for months. The EP-3s can intercept terrorist communications in rural areas, and this provided data, including locations, of the terrorist hideouts and rural camps. These aerial patrols were kept secret, so the terrorists would not limit the use of their radios and cell phones.

Operations like this are why more and more al Qaeda operatives are heading south, to join the cocaine smuggling operation in West Africa. But this takes al Qaeda operatives away from Algerian population and government centers. It also turns the terrorists into gangsters, since they can't fight the Algerian government (and overthrow it), from the smuggler bases far to the south. This, as much as anything else, is killing al Qaeda in the region.

The American supported counter-terrorism alliance of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger has some intractable problems. Algeria and Mauritania consider themselves Arab (although many Mauritanians consider themselves non-Arab), while Mali and Niger do not. The non-Arabs are either black Africans or ancient non-Arab tribes, two groups that have never got on well with the Arabs. There's not much trust and a lot of mutual disdain. Then there's the corruption problem. The al Qaeda drug smuggling gangs bribe police and troops wherever possible. Thus captured smugglers are not likely to stay captured long, as negotiations for their release are quickly undertaken. The troops or police who captured the al Qaeda men can get rich by arranging a daring "escape."  American anti-terror operatives have to deal with the situation, sometimes getting into a bidding competition to gain access to the captured terrorists.

December 18, 2010: Over the last week, military operations along the coast, 100 kilometers east of the capital, have left a dozen rebels dead. Arrests were also made, and several camps found and shut down. Weapons and documents were captured. Some of the rebels escaped, and are still being sought.

December 16, 2010: Morocco and Polisario have resumed peace talks, in an attempt to end decades of violence. Polisario has been in bad shape since 1991, when Morocco finally won its war with the  Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the Western Sahara (a region south of Morocco). Polisario remained powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several refugee camps. Because Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, Polisario still has enough diehards out there to keep lots of people in Western Sahara unhappy. This was known to provide recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. For two decades, the UN has been trying and work out a final peace deal between Polasario and Morocco. In the 1990s, Algeria cut off all support for Polasario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked. The contested area is largely desert, and has a population of less than 300,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence, than submit to Morocco. Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders (the area was administered, until 1976, as a Spanish colony). If the fighting breaks out again, possibly inspired by Islamic radicals, it could go on for years, just as it does in many other parts of Africa, and the immediate neighborhood. Getting involved in the cocaine smuggling provides money, some of which goes got guns and vehicles, making the Polisario fighters more formidable.

December 13, 2010: East of the capital, troops found five al Qaeda hideouts and camps, and killed three terrorists. Those that fled are being pursued.

December 10, 2010: Army sweeps east of the capital left at least ten al Qaeda men dead, and several of their camps destroyed.

December 8, 2010: Over the last few days, troops from Mali and Mauritanian captured 13 drug smugglers, and killed two. Most of these men were found to be members of the Polisario Front, and operators of a major drug smuggling operation (moving cocaine from Guinea-Bissau, where it is flown in from South America, to the Mediterranean coast). Polisario Front members were known to be involved in smuggling and other illegal activities, but their involvement in moving cocaine was only suspected. This implies cooperation with al Qaeda, which apparently has worked out deals with the Islamic terrorist group.

 

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