Algeria snubs France in sahel counterterrorism initiative

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Paris wants to organize a conference of heads of state of a group of Sahel countries that have joined forces to fight against terrorist networks in the region. But Algeria opposes the French move as it fights to keep its leading role in the region’s initiatives due to its experience and military power. An intelligence agency on terrorism, shared by four countries of the Sahel, will begin operation Wednesday in the Algerian capital.

It is a tug of war between Algiers and Paris. According to information gleaned from several Algerian news sources Tuesday, the northern African country’s diplomatic representation does not want Paris to sponsor a regional conference on the fight against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist network responsible for the abduction of several Westerners in the region.

According to Paris, the meeting, scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, is expected to bring heads of state of Sahel countries that are facing the problem of Islamist terrorism together. Some presidents, including Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, are believed to have responded positively to the invitation.

“We fully support this idea. But we also want this meeting to be an opportunity for our partners to address the issue of development in the region. It is not enough to focus entirely on security”, he said recently in an interview broadcast on French national TV.

And despite France planning to keep its distance while overseeing the meeting, Algeria won’t hear of the limited role Paris will be playing.

According to Algeria-dz, citing anonymous diplomatic sources, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government wants the meeting to be organized and conducted by the Sahel-Saharan countries, and “not under the auspices of a foreign country nor one that is outside the region”.

Indeed, analysts argue that the fight against extremists will be more effective if it is locally tailored and driven, an action that will rid extremists of their main premise of fighting the foreign enemy.

Algiers wants to lead

And with its experience in what concerns counterterrorism as well as being a regional military force to reckon with, Algeria wishes to maintain its leadership in handling security-related issues in the Sahel.

Hence Algeria’s repeated calls for a greater implication in what concerns the region’s effort to create a sub-regional synergy to fight AQIM. Calls that have led to two major conferences on counterterrorism in the past six months alone.

The first was held on March 16 in Algiers, Algeria where Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger were represented at the “Coordination Conference”.

The second meeting which took place on Sunday at Tamanrasset, brought together chiefs of staff of the armies of four countries; Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Mali. They decided to pool their resources to end terrorism in the Sahel.

Wednesday in Algiers, the heads of intelligence services of the four countries are expected to set up a joint intelligence agency which aims to collect information on terrorist activities and make them available to the military operations center based in Tamanrasset in the Sahel.

“Algeria appears to be leading in the counterterrorism strategy within the Sahel sub-region, where the security situation is becoming increasingly worrying,” El Watan newspaper writes.

Meanwhile, other countries including Chad and Nigeria are expected to join the four member coalition at a latter date.

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