Algeria: Ancient Vices Are Difficult To Shed

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June 2, 2017: So far this year there has not been much Islamic terrorist activity. Rarely are more than ten Islamic terrorists killed in a month with about as many taken alive. This is trending downward and that began in January when only five Islamic terrorists were killed and five captured. In addition 28 Islamic terrorism supporters were arrested and the bodies of two Islamic terrorists were found in the countryside along with 46 bunkers used by Islamic terrorists. Most bunkers were empty but those that were not contained 23 automatic rifles, 39 semi-automatic and single shot rifles, 1,600 rounds of rifle and pistol ammo, four rockets, two RPG launchers, two mortars, four bomb making workshops, 30 crude bombs, along with seven cell phones and other equipment. On the borders, mainly in the south, 128 smugglers were arrested and several hundred tons of food, consumer goods and fuel seized. Also intercepted were 1,301 illegal migrants, which have become a lucrative business for the smugglers. Troops following up on tips from locals are scouring the coastal hills and finding few live Islamic terrorists but lots of evidence that they used to be, but not many of them recently.

For all of 2016 125 Islamic terrorists were killed. This included fifteen ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members 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. Most of these clashes took place east of the capital or in the far south near the borders of Mali, Niger and Libya. Algeria is one of the growing number of North African nations (like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt) that are defeating Islamic terrorism. Despite efforts by popular (elsewhere) Islamic terror groups to get established in Algeria the local population and security forces have successfully opposed this. In 2016 230 Islamic terrorists were arrested or surrendered. That’s an increase over 2015 as is success in finding hideouts (over 460) and arms caches (containing over 750 assault rifles, machine-guns and sniper rifles as well as over four tons of ammo and explosives) belonging to Islamic terror groups. When Islamic terrorists lose this much infrastructure and armed supporters they are in big trouble. This can be seen in the declining number of terror attacks and growing number of Islamic terrorists clashing with the security forces and losing.

May 28, 2017: In the east, just across the border in Tunisia, soldiers searching the mountainous forests near Mount Chaambi encountered two Islamic terrorists who had been hiding out there since 2014. One terrorist was killed and another wounded. The dead man was later identified as the local ISIL leader who was planning attacks in Tunisia. Weapons, ammo and other material were seized. Any intel is shared with Algeria, which reciprocates. Based on information found at the ISIL hideouts three more Islamic terrorism suspects were arrested the next day and more arrests are expected in Tunisia and Algeria. Tunisian border police and soldiers have spent several years hunting for 30-50 Islamic terrorists operating near the Kasserine Pass and Mount Chaambi in the Atlas Mountains just across the border. Tunisian security personnel are searching a hundred square kilometers of sparsely populated forests and mountains without much success because more of the men they seek are killed carrying out attacks or fleeing the country. After 2011 Tunisia had to deal with armed Islamic terrorists they had not experienced since 2007. Many of these armed were terrorists who fled Mali after the January 2013 French advance into northern Mali and others were from Algeria. Most of these appear to have moved on, or quit.

In the southeast (Illizi Province) five Libyan farmers visiting their land on the border were shot at by armed men from Algeria. One Libyan was killed and four wounded. The victims were not sure if the attackers were Algerian soldiers patrolling the Libyan border or Algerian Islamic terrorists who often cross the border to buy supplies in Libya, sometimes at the nearby border town of Ghat. There is not much government on the Libyan side of the border with local Tuareg tribal leaders doing the best they can. These Tuareg have cooperated with Algeria before and have asked for Algerian help in identifying the shooters.

May 27, 2017: In Batna province (500 kilometers southeast of the capital) troops killed four Islamic terrorists in a brief gun battle. Further east, on the Libyan border, soldiers caught three armed men trying to enter Algeria and after a brief firefight the three retreated back into Libya but left weapons and other supplies behind.

May 24, 2017: The navy put into service the second of two MEKO A200 class frigates it ordered from Germany in 2012. The first one entered service in 2016. These 3,500 ton ships are armed with eight anti-ship missiles, 16 anti-aircraft missiles, four 324mm torpedo tubes, a 76mm gun, two 35mm, and two 20mm autocannon as well as a helicopter. Crew size is 100 and it can stay at sea 21 days before needing refueling and resupply. Top speed is 50 kilometers an hour. MEKO class ships are a mature and reliable design that is used for ships displacing from nearly 1,000 tons to nearly 4,000. The A200 types cost about $400 million each. This purchase caused some unrest in Algeria, where the corrupt government has spent little on social needs, despite billions in oil income.

May 9, 2017: The neighbors of Libya met again (for the 11th time) in the capital of Algeria. There were representatives from the UN as well as the UN backed Libyan GNA (Government of National Accord). The neighbors attending included Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Niger and Chad. Everyone agreed there should be no foreign intervention. In reality Egyptian efforts to keep Libyan Islamic terrorists and weapons smugglers out has led to armed intervention by Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). There are also some foreign special operations troops working in eastern Libya. All this was not an issue at the meeting today, instead there was continued dismay at the inability of the two main factions in Libya to agree to a peace deal. The Arab Gulf State of Abu Dhabi recently hosted a meeting between Libyan opposition military leader Khalifa Hiftar and the prime minister of the GNA government. This was the first time these two men met. This meeting led to more Moslem nations backing Egypt in its effort to support Hiftar. Egypt has resisted pressure from the UN to get behind the GNA 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 other local Moslem nations. These attitudes are no secret because 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, agreed to cooperate with whatever faction was 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. Tunisia noted that general Hiftar (the HoR military leader) keeps 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.

May 4, 2017: Parliamentary elections took place today and the bad news was that the vote was rigged, as usual, and the ruling party maintained its controlling majority. Government efforts to get more people to vote failed, with only 29 percent of eligible voters participating compared to 34 percent five years ago. The greatest concern of the government was getting enough people to participate. Meanwhile the number of young Algerians participating in anti-government protests continues to rise. The government has been pretending to reform the political system but that is widely seen as another sad failure. In 2016 parliament passed much needed changes to the constitution. But reformers were not impressed because as long as power is monopolized by a few families (which were prominent in the 1960s rebellion against France) new laws will not change anything and in this case they did not. That’s because some of the “new” reforms were implemented in the past but then cancelled when it suited the corrupt and dictatorial ruling families. Unless the government introduces and enforces honest voting and then obeys the law, there can be no real reform. This is a common pattern worldwide and especially in the Middle East. Everyone knows that corruption and bad government are the main cause of stagnant economies and general unrest but not enough of those in charge are willing to give up enough power to fix the problem. In part this is because of the well-founded (in history) fear that another group of corrupt officials will resume the practice of rigging elections.

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 an 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 problem, for most Algerians, is that the government says the right things but does not follow up. This delays an explosive popular reaction and reminds Algerians that they have been tolerating this corrupt and ruthless ruling class since the 1960s. Then again students of Algerian history note that this form of government was common in what is now Algeria for thousands of years and played a role in giving the French an excuse to take over in the 19th century and run Algeria as a colony for over a century before leaving (involuntarily) in the early 1960s. Despite all the talk about a “new beginning” the post-colonial Algerian leaders promptly went old school and there it remains. The main reason Europe pays attention is because the return to the old school governing methods also meant the return of North African based criminal groups that found new ways to prey on Europe. And so it came to pass the Algeria found it could resume extorting cash and other favors from European states. That sort of thing has not been seen since the 19th century (the Barbary Pirates and Saracen Corsairs) and before that flourished for nearly a thousand years. Ancient vices are difficult to shed.

 


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