Algeria: Seeking Bargains In Cuba

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March 1, 2018: The government has been quietly cancelling or delaying military procurement deals because of the sustained low oil prices. This includes nearly a billion dollars’ worth of Russian arms and a $1.1 billion deal with an American firm to provide three Gulfstream business jets equipped to perform radar, optical and electronic surveillance. This militarized Gulfstream purchase was made in 2015, just as the low oil prices became a long-term, not a short-term problem. Cancelling arms purchases is not enough. The low oil prices has forced Algeria to deal with long term problems with corruption and economic growth.

Algeria has been making some earnest efforts to reform its economy and government to cope with the long-term loss of oil income but actually changing the culture of corruption is proving difficult. One of the major problems is the government inability to clean up its own massive internal corruption. Despite positive press releases from the government, outside observers cannot see any real progress. In 2017 Algeria ranked 112 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. The current Algeria score is 33 (down from 34 in 2016) compared to 17 (14) for Libya, 31 (32) for Mali, 40 (37) for Morocco, 42 (41) for Tunisia, 20 (20) for Chad, 33 (35) for Niger, 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 61 (60) for Botswana, 75 (74) for the United States, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 25 (26) for Cameroon, 39 (36) for Benin, 40 (43) for Ghana, 43 (45) for South Africa, 21 (21) for Congo, 45 (45) for Senegal, 40 (40) for India, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia, 54 (53) for South Korea, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 30 (29) for Iran, 15 (15) for Afghanistan, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 29 (29) for Russia and 41 (40) for China. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Algeria’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 34.

The Good Neighbors

Despite all this experience in fighting Islamic terrorism Algeria refuses to send troops to support any military operations outside Algeria, particularly in Libya or Mali. One can understand the reluctance to get involved with the civil war in Libya. But Algeria does take sides. For example Algeria continues to side with Qatar in its feud with the other Gulf Arab oil states (and their allies, like Egypt and Israel). That means Algeria backs the UN faction in Libya while the UAE and most other Arab states do not. In any event counterterrorism is a big deal for Algeria because of the long borders they share with Libya and Mali. It is also a big deal for the UN, which considers Algeria the most successful North African nation when it comes to dealing with Islamic terrorism. Algeria has done well at guarding its Libyan and Mali borders but is keeping its troops at home no matter what. Mali is satisfied that their northern border with Algeria is, by local standards, pretty secure. Libya is less satisfied because there is still no national government there. The problem is that Libya, until oil was discovered, was a big nothing as far a population went. The only land that could sustain a population was along the coast and 90 percent of the country is uninhabited desert. Even with the oil (reserves of over 70 billion barrels) the population was only six million while the six neighbors (Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia) have some 200 million people and land borders with Libya that total 4,500 kilometers.

Since 2011 the decade’s old Kaddafi dictatorship has not been replaced by anything. At least Kaddafi had replaced a functioning monarchy in 1969 with a functioning dictatorship that finally failed in 2011. Despite the lure of all that oil wealth, none of the neighbors is willing or able to go in and restore order and take oil in payment. None of the neighbors (except, to a limited extent, Egypt) is willing to send in military forces to restore order. Some Western nations have contributed small numbers of special operations forces (for limited operations) and air support. But basically Libya is a black hole in the political map and a free-fire zone for all sorts of Islamic terrorists and warlords. Algeria and Tunisia have managed to keep the Islamic terrorists out while to the south Algeria depends on French help to keep the Islamic terrorist activity in Mali from getting into Algeria.

Algeria has been particularly active, and effective, cooperating with neighboring Tunisia to deal with Islamic terror threats from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) activity and not much from AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). While ISIL did not show up until 2013, AQIM was formed in 2007 from several of the 1990s era Algerian groups. Despite efforts by popular (elsewhere) Islamic terror groups to get established in Algeria the local population and security forces have successfully opposed this. As has been the case since the Algerian Islamic terror groups were defeated, most Algerian Islamic terrorists have been found outside Algeria.

Tunisia, with a smaller (11 million versus 41 million in Algeria) population has managed to avoid the kind of Islamic radical uprising Algeria experienced in the 1990s and has kept most Islamic terrorists out ever since. Currently Algeria and Tunisia are cooperating to prevent AQIM from recruiting ISIL survivors from Libya, Syria and Iraq who have sought (without much success) refuge in Tunisia, Algeria or Libya. All three nations have become particularly hostile to ISIL and not much more accepting of AQIM. Islamic radicalism (and the use of religion backed terror) still has some appeal but after decades of failure, using several different approaches, most Moslems in the Maghreb (Moslem North Africa) have had it with Islamic terrorism. It will probably return in a generation or two, as it has done for over a thousand years but for now the Islamic radicals are on the outs and Algeria and Tunisia are taking advantage of it.

February 27, 2018: In the southeast (Bouria province, 120 kilometers from the capital) troops found and destroyed two caches of Islamic terrorist equipment which included grenades and bomb components as well as cell phones rigged for use as remote detonators.

In the capital Algerian and Turkish leaders signed seven economic cooperation agreements intended to increase trade between the two countries. Turkey is a major manufacturer among Moslem majority nations and Algeria has growing quantities of oil and natural gas to trade for these goods. Algeria is seeking bargains in these trade deals because reduced oil income is becoming a greater problem and better deals must be obtained. Thus a month ago Algeria signed a trade deal with Cuba to trade oil for less costly medical professionals (doctors, nurses, technicians). Cuba produces more of these specialists than it can afford to provide jobs for and even those working in Cuba make far less than their counterparts in non-communist countries. So Cuba exports these health professionals on contracts that pay the medical specialists more than they would make at home while the Cuban government keeps a large percentage of what the health professionals are “paid.” This “doctors for oil” program already exists in Algeria but is being expanded in part because a similar deal with Venezuela has fallen apart because the socialist government there destroyed the economy. Some of the trade deals Algeria recently signed are purely symbolic, like the one recently made with the Palestinians. Cuba prefers dealing with Algeria because one of the problems with sending their medical specialists to Venezuela was that it was too easy for these Cubans to walk away and make a better life in a non-communist Western country.

February 19, 2018: In the east (Khenchla province), near the Tunisian border two soldiers were killed and one wounded by a roadside bomb.

February 16, 2018: In the last week security forces have dismantled two ISIL recruiting groups. One was in Bayda province south of the capital and the other was in the west (Tlemcen province), where most of the recent ISIL activity has occurred over the last few years. These recruiting groups (or “cells”) were small and only seven people were arrested. It appears that people associated with the cells, including those approached to join ISIL for operations in Algeria or elsewhere, provided the initial leads that led to a three month investigation to obtain as much information as possible about the recruiter activities and successes. Intelligence specialists were particularly interested in whether these ISIL operatives were dealing with Algerian ISIL members who survived recent defeats in Syria and Iraq and were seeking to come back to Algeria as well as seeking new members. Information was also sought about sub-Saharan African Islamic terrorists moving north with economic migrants. These illegals want to get to Europe but are often forced to settle for Algeria or Morocco and many of then are young, Moslem and tempted by the ISIL recruiting pitch.

February 14, 2018: In the east (Constantine province), near the Tunisian border a roadside bomb killed five soldiers and wounded two more. Both sides of the border are subject to violence by AQIM members in the area.

In the south, across the border in Mali, French forces clashed with a group of Islamic terrorists and killed ten of them (including a former Mali army colonel) and destroyed two trucks.

February 10, 2018: The police have increased efforts to find and expel illegal migrants (mainly from countries to the south). So far in 2018 at least 3,000 illegals have been arrested and held for expulsion. It is estimated that 100,000 migrants, most of them from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are in Algeria.

February 7, 2018: In the southeast (Bouria province, 120 kilometers from the capital) troops arrested five locals and charged them with providing logistical and other support for Islamic terrorists. Troops also seized two bombs and destroyed them. Elsewhere in the southeast (Batna province) a man was arrested after being caught carrying five pistols and over a hundred rounds of ammo as well as binoculars.

In the far south (Tamanrasset province, 2,000 kilometers south of the capital) near the Niger border troops found a cache containing three AK-47s and five loaded magazines.

January 30, 2018: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) troops killed two Islamic terrorists one them was later identified as a senior leader (head of propaganda and media manipulation) for AQIM.

 

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