Algeria: Islamic Militants Become Hired Guns To Survive


June 26, 2010: The government has concluded their $7.5 billion weapons and equipment purchase deal with Russia. Included are a wide range of equipment, for ground, naval and air forces. Over the last two decades, the armed forces have not replaced a lot of their gear needed for conventional war. Most of defense spending went into filling the needs of police and paramilitary forces fighting Islamic terrorists.

Islamic militants are believed to be building fortified bunkers in the mountains along the Mali border. They are doing this in cooperation with local tribal groups, who provide cover. Local security forces on both sides of the border are always out hunting for Islamic terrorists, so no one down there openly identifies themselves as such. But an increasing number of known Islamic terrorists from the north have been killed, captured or spotted in the south, and especially along the Mali border. The Islamic radicals are armed, and have turned to kidnapping foreigners and drug smuggling  to pay for supplies, bribes and gifts for their new tribal buddies. Foreigners have been warned to stay out of the area, but there are always a small number of them too dumb, or adventurous, to stay away. The Islamic terrorists are believed to be helping move 50-100 tons of cocaine (and other drugs) a year, north to Mediterranean ports. Some of the smuggling fees are shared with local tribesmen, who have long engaged in some smuggling on the side. But the drugs are very valuable cargoes, and the Islamic radicals had the international connections (all up and down the coast of West Africa, as well as in South America) to put this deal together. The local tribes are suitably impressed. So are Western counter-terror forces. While there are only believed to be a few hundred Islamic terrorists operating along Algeria's southern border, there are nearly as many American Special Forces to the south, training African troops and police on the best methods for hunting and killing the newly arrived (in the last few years) Islamic terrorists. The relations with the local tribes, especially the powerful Tuareg, are complicated. The Tuareg are not fond of Islamic terrorism, but young Tuareg are allowed to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good, and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses, and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders.

The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south. Meanwhile, along the border, Islamic radicals openly talk (on their web sites) of planning to overthrow the governments of Algeria, Mauritania and Mali. Given the sorry track record against Algeria, Islamic terrorism in Algeria's neighbors is seen more of a nuisance than real threat. In the more populated northern Algeria, the Islamic terrorists are able to launch one or two operations a month, and spend most of their time dodging army and police efforts to find the terrorist bases (mostly in rural areas.)

June 24, 2010: Near the Tunisian border, gunmen opened fire on a wedding celebration, killing five. Police believe the attackers were al Qaeda, and are searching for the killers (who are apparently known to the cops.) There hasn't been any violence like this in the area for over a year.

June 11, 2010: A hundred kilometers east of the capital, a suicide bomber drove a truck into a police base (for SWAT/rapid reaction forces), killing nine people (four policemen, three terrorists, one local civilian and a Chinese man from a local construction project.) Two of the terrorists were in another vehicle behind the truck bomb, apparently armed and for exploiting the explosion. But police security prevented the two terrorist vehicles from getting as close as the terrorists wanted.



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