Algeria: Quiet And Keeping It That Way


May 21, 2018: President Bouteflika made a rare public appearance on the 15th. Although in a wheelchair he visited the construction site of the $1.6 billion Great Mosque in the capital. The cost of the mosque, in a time of austerity, is one reason Bouteflika and his cronies are so unpopular. The pressure on Bouteflika and his allies has increased since he suffered a stroke in 2013. The close associates (family, friends and political allies) of Bouteflika have managed to hold tight the reins of power with or without a lot of help from the elderly (now 81) and ailing president. Bouteflika will apparently run for president again (in 2019) if he is still alive because his associates cannot agree on a replacement. Bouteflika has been president since 1999 using a rigged system that blocks opposition candidates and generally guarantees Bouteflika will get reelected. Bouteflika has retained power by taking care of key groups (the security forces, key politicians and non-government leaders). At the same time, Bouteflika is considered a more successful ruler than most others in the Arab world and that counts for a lot.

The big problems now are economic and finding ways to use Algerian oil and gas income to keep Bouteflika and his associates in power. But oil income has been reduced by half since 2014 because of the decline in the world oil prices. Those prices have recovered somewhat in the last year but that has not helped much because the increase is the largely the result of the Arab led oil cartel (OPEC) enforcing quotas to make the prices rise. Countries like Algeria have to curb the corruption and enact needed economic reforms to sustain and accelerate economic growth. Algeria has had some success with this, at least enough to avoid another civil war but the popular anger is still there.

Border Blues

While the Islamic terrorists get the most publicity (because of their extreme violence and eagerness to spread worldwide) most of the current Algerian outlaw activity is about making money. The Islamic terror groups dominate the most lucrative criminal activities (smuggling drugs) because the Islamic terrorists are the most violent outlaws around and generally unencumbered by many family or tribal responsibilities. Nevertheless, the Islamic terrorists are a small part of a much larger smuggling community. For example, increased security on Algeria’s southern border (especially the ones with Mali and Niger) now catches more people illegally crossing the border but most of them are smugglers. While most of the smuggled goods are consumer items (easier to sell in Algeria), weapons and drugs are sometimes encountered. It was the drug shipments that are often accompanied by armed men willing to fight their way past border patrols. The favorite technique for getting drugs and weapons in is crossing the border at night and then hiding the drugs or weapons at an obscure location known only to partners in Algeria who have a legitimate reason for being down south. These weapons and drugs picked up, hidden in a vehicle and then smuggled north to the coast and another gang of smugglers got the drugs on ships or airplanes headed for Europe. The weapons were for local markets (mostly criminals). Since moving drugs involves so many people, it is more expensive. But that’s the nature of drug smuggling and Islamic terror groups tend to supply most of the security and maintain that monopoly by killing any competitors. Drug shipments still get seized. This is usually when the hiding places on the Algerian side of the border are stumbled on by patrols or the transporters moving the drugs from the southern border to the coast have an accident or get exposed as smugglers for some other reason. The Algerian police estimate that over 90 percent of the drugs get through. That because the Islamic terrorists shed the “Islamic terror” characteristics while moving drugs and get paid more than enough to keep them in business. For this reason, small groups of Islamic terrorists survive in northern Mali, near the Algerian and Niger borders not because of local Islamic radicals but because of the cash. With that, you can buy all the hospitality and discretion you need from people you have to deal with along the way.

People smugglers have a different problem because the Libyan borders are more heavily patrolled and the Algerians are arresting and expelling of illegal migrants who had made it into Algeria. These illegals will be transported to the Niger border and forced to cross into Niger and then find their way home (often to Nigeria or Cameroon.) People smuggling comes and goes and depends on their being Mediterranean ports where the smugglers can get their clients onto ships and across the water to European territory. Often this means just international waters. But the smugglers need a port and over the last few years those have been available in Libya. Without a cooperative port it is still possible to get across to Europe but it costs a lot more to get fake ID that will get the illegal onto a legitimate ship or airliner.

One reason for the successful border security in Algeria is the good treatment the military receives. Good pay and benefits, as well as modern equipment, make a difference and this has been a tradition for decades. Algeria has the highest defense spending in Africa (about $10 billion a year), which is a bit more than twice what second place Sudan spends. Algeria accounts for about half the foreign weapons purchases for all of Africa and gets most of its new gear from Russia. Algeria keeps the Russians honest and attentive by also purchasing more weapons from China, which has a reputation for building Russian weapons better than the Russians. The Algerian military managed to put down a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the 1990s and have kept the unpopular (for slaughtering lots of civilians to disagreed with the rebels) Islamic terrorists on the run and there has been less and less Islamic terrorist activity since the 2005 amnesty program. At this point, Algeria sometimes goes months without any Islamic terrorist violence. There are still Islamic terrorists in Algeria, but few are actively pursuing violent terrorist activities.

Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian officials met in Algeria today in a continuing effort to work out a common policy on Libya. At the moment Libya is in the midst of forming a national government for the first time since 2011. Neighboring countries want to ensure that none of them support disruptive factions inside Libya. Algeria and Egypt have had their differences about who to support in Libya but now appear to have resolved that problem and want to keep it that way.

May 16, 2018: In Jijel Province (365 kilometers east of the capital) Abu Oussama, a veteran (from the 1990s) Islamic terrorist surrendered with his weapon and ammo. This was part of the amnesty program, which includes families of Islamic terrorists. In this case, the family of Abu Oussama (ten people) turned themselves in on April 26th and then made it clear that they were safe. This persuaded Abu Oussama to surrender and provide information about Islamic terrorist activity he still has knowledge of.

May 13, 2018: In the southeast (800 kilometers from the capital) the army held military exercises near the Libyan border, including live firing of artillery and other weapons. This sort of thing reminds the larger militias in Libya that venturing across the border is a very bad idea.

May 12, 2018: Algeria showed off another recently purchased weapon system from Russia. This one is the TOS-1A multiple rocket launcher that is mounted on a T-72 tank chassis and uses 220mm rockets equipped with thermobaric warheads which contain a fuel-air explosive. A thermobaric warhead disperses a combustible mist, which is then ignited, producing an enormous explosion. Russia classifies the TOS-1A as a “flamethrower” because the warhead creates a huge fireball. The TOS-1A vehicles have been seen stationed near the Libyan border.

May 1, 2018: In the capital, the ambassadors from North Korea and South Korea held a rare meeting, apparently as part of the current peace talks between the two Koreas. Algeria and Egypt are the only two Arab countries with embassies from both Koreas.

April 23, 2018: In the southeast (Illizi Province) troops patrolling the Libyan border found and destroyed more weapons apparently brought across the border from Libya and hidden for Algerian arms dealers to pick up.

April 22, 2018: France, Algeria and Mali are using a secret 2017 amnesty agreement to persuade key AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) personnel to surrender. In Mali and neighboring states, most of the Islamic terrorists are not ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and are largely united. Most of the Islamic terrorist activity in Mali is the work of JNIM, which was formed in early 2017. In part, this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members AQIM Ansar Dine, FLM and al Mourabitoun (an al Qaeda splinter group). Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources (including information and advice) and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the area. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences. The new amnesty program is based on the one Algeria has been using successfully against AQIM, ISIL and other Islamic terrorists in Algeria.

April 20, 2018: France has expelled another Algerian Sunni Moslem cleric back to Algeria. The cleric openly called for French Moslems to attack Jews and Shia Moslems as well as those who support education for women. Those attitudes are more acceptable in Algeria as long as the cleric does not call for overthrow of the government. Algeria accepts these expelled clerics as part of a joint counter-terrorism arrangement with France.


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