Algeria: The Desert Is Burning


March 8, 2012: Just across the southern border in Mali, Algerians nervously watch yet another tribal rebellion by Tuaregs. This time it's a little different. Basically it's all about smuggling cocaine and hashish north through Algeria to Europe. 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. The Algerian government is afraid that the Tuareg will be tempted, by a big payday, to provide sanctuary for al Qaeda, as well as providing new recruits for Islamic terrorist operations (especially those that raise a lot of cash, like kidnapping Westerners). While the Tuareg are not fond of Islamic terrorism, 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 mere fact that Tuareg are working for al Qaeda in southern Algeria has angered Algerian officials. Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for decades and made peace with most of them in 2007.  The current bunch of Tuareg rebels insist that they have no connection with al Qaeda or MOJWA, but many other Tuaregs do and there's no denying that. On the southern border of Algeria the Sahara desert turns into the semi-desert Maghreb, a band of barely livable land stretching from the Atlantic coast to Somalia.

An al Qaeda splinter group, MOJWA (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), has three European aid workers (a man and two women) they had kidnapped in an Algerian refugee camp last October and are demanding $39 million ransom. The U.S. warns that paying any ransom simply enables the terrorists to carry out more attacks. This warning does not always persuade European politicians to pay attention to short term problems (people and press demanding anything be done to free the captives) and long term ones (financing terrorists).

March 4, 2012:  Some 60 kilometers east of the capital, police ambushed a group of armed al Qaeda men, killing one and causing the others to flee.

March 3, 2012: In Mali government forces attempting to reinforce a border town (Tessalit) besieged by Tuareg rebels are driven back by another Tuareg force. American C-130s have been parachuting supplies to the besieged troops.

In Algeria a MOJWA suicide car bomber attacked an army base 2,000 kilometers south of the capital and killed himself while wounding 23 people.

February 25, 2012:  The government has called for an end to violence in Syria. While many members of the Algerian dictatorship would like to see the Assad family keep power in Syria, it is more important to keep the "Arab Spring" movement out of Algeria. So far, the "old revolutionaries" (the families that led the 1950s war against the French colonial government) continue to run Algeria and exploit it for their own benefit. This has been going on since the French left in the early 1960s. They do this via rigged elections and a very efficient security force. Using government power to cripple opposition parties does not always work. For example, in 1992 Islamic parties won an election that would have given them control of the government. The military staged a coup to halt that, which triggered fifteen years of Islamic terrorism in response. Although the Islamic terrorists were defeated, they were not destroyed and a few hundred terrorists and supporters keep the killing going, if just barely. While the government has the edge, as long as the nation is run by an unpopular dictatorship there will continue to be unrest.

February 22, 2012:  Some 50 kilometers east of the capital police ran down and killed five al Qaeda men. In the last four days, anti-terrorist operations east of the capital have killed sixteen terrorists.

February 19, 2012: Some 70 kilometers east of the capital a roadside bomb killed four people on a bus and wounded ten others. The bomb was intended for a military convoy but hit civilians instead.

February 17, 2012: In the southeast, near the Libyan border, police found a stash of weapons (including some shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles) smuggled in from Libya.

February 14, 2012: The army has ordered 120 T-90S tanks from Russia, for about $3.4 million each. This is the most recent tank design the Russians offer.

February 13, 2012: Near the Mali, border three Islamic terrorists and a soldier were killed during a gun battle.

February 9, 2012: The government signed an agreement with Libya to cooperate on patrolling their common border more intensively to cut down on arms smuggling and illegal crossings in general.

February 8, 2012: Just across the border in Mali, Tuareg rebels seized the town of Tinzawaten.

January 31, 2012:  In Mali, Tuareg rebels and soldiers clashed near the Algerian border.





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