Some Long Thoughts: Algeria Plays Defence

SUMMARY: This post is several posts  originally written in January and February merged together. These posts were put off from being posted for reasons of time, attention deficits and levels of satisfaction. They were all originally experiments in ways of thinking about recent events to do with Algeria’s defensive posture (which has been the subject of so much writing lately). It is concerned with some of the public writing and analysis on Algerian foreign policy, especially with respect to Mali immediately before and during France’s intervention there. The main gist is related to Algeria’s strong attachment to its national sovereignty in foreign policy, its defensive (also called ‘paranoid’) posture overall, and the country’s self-image in world politics and their influence on its behaviour in the world. It is not concerned with evaluating or making a case for how Algeria or other ought to do one or the other such thing in foreign affairs. It is however interested in considering adjusting some common assumptions about Algerian foreign policy in general.

It also includes some thoughts on issues such as the assumptions and expectations seen in some public writing about Algeria’s military capabilities, its ‘success’ in fighting terrorism, the extent and scope of its ambition as a regional ‘hegemon’ mainly in the post-Qadhafi period, opacity in Algerian decision-making and its origins; it also includes some remarks related to the complications of Algeria’s ongoing generational transformation. It is not meant to be definitive or authoritative, just one grain of sand on a long beach.

Algeria on Defence

Since 9/11 Algerian leaders have presented themselves as key partners of the United States and Europe in fighting terrorism; a significant effort has been made to enhance such relations in Algiers, Washington and Brussels. This has been ‘prickly’ and ‘difficult’ in the experience of many and confusing for many watching from the outside, the Algerians having a relatively defensive regional posture (compared to their neighbors) and having a more limited concept of cooperation than many western leaders and analyst. Indeed Algeria’s foreign policy leaders have depicted the country as a leader in counterterrorism in Africa in international and regional fora in particular, actively seeking out leadership roles in the African Union and United Nations on these issues; they have also eagerly made their resources available to western counterterrorism officials, often with self-serving motives.[1] Algeria’s ‘experience’ fighting terrorism, and relatively large, well-funded military, are frequently depicted as assets that could – or should – have been leveraged in the conflict in Mali or elsewhere. As one writer points out:

The country has the largest defense budget on the African continent ($10.3 billion in 2012), far-reaching military power (because of its large fleet of aircraft) and recognized counterterrorism expertise. It also serves as a founding member and leader in several regional and global counterterrorism forums.

While Algeria has played its military capabilities to foreign audiences as a reason for expanded cooperation, it is unclear whether Algeria is prepared to assume a more direct leadership role in the region. Many prescriptive analyses of Algeria’s recent foreign policy tend to describe the country’s foreign policy as out of step with emerging norms, ‘paranoid,’ suffering from ‘strategic ambivalence’ or even seeking to undermine its neighbors by manipulating militant groups as a way to justify its internal security regime. Nonetheless, the point remains that a great deal of writing looking at Algeria in the context of international terrorism and the Sahel crises has painted an aspirational picture of roles that western observers appear to believe Algeria wants to fulfill, but won’t. Algeria has proven significantly more cautious and conservative in its approach to regional crises and upheavals in the last three years than many anticipated.

For a country so  relatively well resourced, obviously concerned with numerous regional crises, Algeria has generally refused to (especially military) engage many major crises in the region in concert with Arab or western partners, often siding with non-interventionist camps.[2] In particular it has long refused a kinetic role in the Mali crisis that takes it beyond its own borders. Limited reports in the Algerian press in late 2011 reported that Algeria had deployed a small number of Algerians into northern Mali to train Malian forces (other reports also noted plans for similar missions into Mauritania); beyond this Algeria has shown remarkable resolve in not deploying force beyond its borders. While Algerian forces have reportedly launched air strikes against MUJWA and other hostile elements that penetrated its southern border with Mali in 2012, it did not send aircraft on raiding missions into Mali either before or during the French intervention in Mali. The Algerians sent upwards of 30,000 troops to the sixth military region (Tamanrasset) during recent months, mostly – it seems – in hopes of containing the Mali crisis. They also announced the impossible – ‘closing’ their border with Mali. Without a doubt this important but of course not ultimately sufficient and it is not likely the Algerians will move the men massed at the Moroccan border in the second and third regions elsewhere soon. A significant amount of public analysis over the last year has sought to fit Algeria into a kind of offshore balancer role in northwest Africa that the country’s leaders seem both unprepared and uninterested in pursuing, despite projecting what appear to be contradictory constructions of the country’s strategic ambitions in northwest Africa and their self-perception as a regional leader (or ‘hegemon’ in political science jargon). One way of looking at Algeria’s regional posture is as follows: Unlike Qadhafi’s Libya and the Hassan II’s Morocco, Algeria has no ideological agenda in the Sahel; while its support for the POLISARIO derives from national liberation ideology its deeper origins were always in maintaining strategic depth to defend against a potential Moroccan invasion along the lines of the 1963 Sand War. While the Libyans actively encouraged Tuareg separatism and the Moroccans promoted expansionist nationalism (‘Greater Morocco’) during the Cold War and 1990s, the Algerians held a reactive posture that sought to keep the consequences of these attitudes from undermining their own sovereignty. It is possible to see the Algerians as seeking equilibrium between powerful actors in the region, not hegemony as a goal in and of itself, as much as seeing other tendencies.[3] Distrustful of their neighbors and strongly inward looking, the Algerians see themselves as holding off meddling and conspiracies cooked up in Rabat, Tripoli and Paris or Washington; and the Algerian experience with their immediate neighbors very often figures directly into these views.[4]

Algeria’s harsh response to the In Amenas crisis – which has been widely commented on and criticized in popular writing and elsewhere – gave rise to a number of discussions among Algerians over how the terrorists’ operation could have happened in the first place (and there are some interesting analyses to be done on security incidents in the months before the attack in Illizi, as well as the larger IV military region which includes other provinces bordering Libya).[5] The In Amenas tragedy has been held up by some as evidence of a failure of Algerian counterterrorism policy broadly both recently and over time; this is especially easy for analysts who were already questioning whether Algeria’s ‘success’ in fighting AQIM was success at all, given the persistence of low-intensity violence in Algeria over the last decade and the group’s expansion into the Sahel. These analysts were skeptical of Algeria’s self-proclaimed opposition to negotiation with terrorists (which is more flexible than Algerian officials would have most people believe[6]) and its motivations in terms of fighting armed groups in Mali. The Algerian response was likely partly meant to deter future attacks and hostage seizures. Algerians have long complained that European approaches to such incidents encourage repeats and copycats. At the same time, the Algerians suffered attacks from the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) during 2012: the seizure of their diplomats at Gao; suicide attacks at Tamanrasset and Ouargala[7]; and border incursions to which the Algerians responded with force, destroying convoys. The Algerians have been prominent proponents of a ‘political solution’ to the crisis in Mali since early 2012 (and many regional and international actors took similar positions or quietly endorsed this view until relatively late, France being a notable exception); they also chose to form their responses to the regional terrorism threat from AQIM through a security lens in the 2008-2011 – both along and in cooperation with regional states. In the pre-2012 period the Algerians believed that ‘holistic solutions’ to the terrorism problem had to come from Nouakchott, Niamey and especially Bamako. Algiers looked a Mali as ‘the weak link’ in the regional security architecture, its leadership corrupt and complicit in the morass of illicit activity that encouraged and enabled AQIM to take root in the country in the first place. Meanwhile, Algeria’s southern neighbors saw the terrorism issue as a largely Algerian problem dumped on them by foreigners, unrelated existing fissures and defects in the architecture of countries like Mali.[8]

Changing Assumptions and Expectations

One should question some of the assumptions around Algeria’s counterterrorism credentials as they are often perceived outside the country and presented to outsiders. Because the discrepancy between what foreigners have expected Algeria to do has differed at times both from what its leaders have volunteered or stated they were willing to do in terms of their regional policy, it is necessary to explain why it is necessary to revise these expectations. Some assumptions must change, especially those that have to do with the scope of  ‘success’ of Algeria’s campaign against Islamists since the early 1990s and what this means for Algeria’s ability and desire to project military influence. On top of this, Algeria’s regional ‘ambitions’ are relatively limited in scope and are linked more to domestic concerns. Algeria previously competed with Libya for influence in the Sahel, largely trying to limit the effects of Qadhafi’s ideological and military experiments and mechanizations but did not seek the hegemonic status Libya did; its role in mediating in past uprisings in Mali and Niger likely has to do with a desire to control potential fallout from bleeding into Algeria. The country’s leaders remain preoccupied internal security and maintaining a posture defensive sovereignty that insulates them from outside pressure.

It should first be stated that Algeria’s ‘victory’ over Islamist extremists is relative and was never complete and that this is an important contextual and psychological piece in both the perceptions of Algerian leaders and the population with respect to the outside world. It is a reality that the Algerian security apparatus nearly completely eliminated both political Islamist movements and armed Islamist terrorism as a threat to existence of the regime and its political authority. It cannot be said that Islamist terrorism was eliminated as a political force in and of itself in most of the country, reduced to more of a nuisance than a sword of Damocles (which is part of why In Amenas was so alarming and relevant). The Algerians did seize the preponderance of relative control over the country. At the time of the civil war the scale of this threat in Algeria was unmatched in any other internal conflict in an Arab state, excepting perhaps the Islamist insurgency in 1980s Syria. The armed movement, save for the most ardent holdouts were eliminated, coopted through reconciliation or mainly pushed to the maquis and that far southern frontiers where they were successful in exploiting defects and weaknesses in the state and social fabric of neighbouring countries. So the problem, as it were, was crushed in political terms in Algeria but entirely eradicated. It is rare that a month goes by in Algeria without some incident involving soldiers or gendarmes and ‘terrorist’ bands being reported in the press. And to some degree total victory is unnecessary for a regime dependent on energy revenue and almost nothing else; major improvements in the security sphere and adequate alterations on the political scene are enough to ensure the survival of the regime.

The country’s political establishment has been eager to play up the country’s relative stability and its success in suppressing the Islamist insurgency. This is taken as a monumental achievement, legitimizing the state and its military and bureaucratic administrators. Despite the brutality and controversy around the war among many Algerian including Algerians and foreign specialists — one hears supporters of the Algerian regime using language such as ‘when the army saved the country’ in reference to both the 1991-1992 coup d’etat which, in the narrative of other Algerians, contributed to sparking the armed opposition and to the civil war – this is a victor’s narrative. There are narratives seen among Algerian civilian and military leaders that depict the civil war as a kind of second independence.[9] The process of the 1988-1991 infitah and the internal war is described as a kind of second war of national liberation where the People’s National Army rescued the nation from extermination, like the FLN and ALN during the fight against France. It is both a fight for the existence of the nation and the survival of its culture and heritage. The worldview that comes from both the war of independence and the civil war among many Algerians in positions of power is that the existence (or survival) and sovereignty of the state is worth almost any price. The narrative reinforces other similar beliefs around the permanent sovereignty of the country in the domain of national defence and natural resources. The Algerian leadership is thus doubly proud of its ability to defeat the Islamist rebellion on political terms largely without obvious direct external support. The Algerians probably more than any other Arab regime are happy to reject western offers for counterterrorism assistance and training and are more confident asking for specific assistance in acquiring specific hardware and training from western governments and are likely to see efforts to expand training for elite forces – as in the case of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer of SAS training for Algeria’s elite units during his recent visit to Algiers – as condescending or undesirable for counterintelligence reasons.[10] As the late Ali Tounsi reportedly told an American consultant, America ‘keeps extending invitations to visit Quantico or Paris Island, but they have nothing to offer that we don’t already know.’ The Algerian security establishment believes it has proven that it holds its own, and that it is entitled to do as it sees fit in the country.

Beyond the Pale

The division between so-called ‘eradicators’ and ‘dialogueists’ (‘conciliators) that emerged in the late 1990s between military factions supporting narrowly hard security versus a political solution to the civil war appears less and less relevant over time. Yet it remains important in looking at recent Algerian reactions to AQIM. The ‘dialogueists,’ men like both President Zeroual and President Bouteflika, had their way up through the early 2000s inside Algeria. This included the resumption of formal political life from 1995 onward, though presidential and legislative elections excluding the FIS (but including ‘moderate’ and Ikhwan-style Islamists), followed by multiple amnesty for military and certain categories of former militants. Yet considerable controversy surrounded the ‘peace and national reconciliation’ accords under Bouteflika, especially in the military hardline. Tolerance for this posture evaporated both in important parts of the population and the sate has declined as time has gone on, with the remaining militants seen as too far gone to be brought back in; many of them do not qualify for amnesty under what is a victor’s peace to begin with. And one can interpret this in the context of a civil war fought among Algerians over basically political issues, except for among the most extreme elements; the political component of the ‘settlement’ initiated from 1999 has no compartment for men like Abelmalek Droukdel almost by design. Algiers appears to see that framework as obsolete both with respect to the Algerian leaders of AQIM. Men like Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whom the Algerians did attempt to ‘bring in’ around the same time they turned Hassan Hattab, will probably not be offered amnesty in the name of ‘civil concord’ and would be unlikely to accept it; unlike the period before the GSPC went ‘glocal,’ the war is no longer a civil war among Algerians,[11] but a regional threat involving Mauritanians, Malians, Libyans, Tunisians, Algerians and westerners.

The view that the Algerians who struck at In Amenas are beyond negotiation or reconciliation is probably well represented by what was done at In Amenas. The Algerian experience with terrorism in the 1990s is primarily an internal one, fought on its home turf where the stakes were seen as basically all or nothing – which is also in evidence at In Amenas.[12] The Algerians sent a message that the security of the country’s energy rent is not a point of negotiation. And although the raid had messaging and symbolism directly targeted at an Algerian audience, it was distinct from the Algerian experience; the insurgents of the 1990s did not attack energy installations partly because of military security measures and partly because of an understanding that this was the lifeline of both the state (of which they sought to take control) and the population. This was an operation probably planned over months and which probably had nothing to do with retaliating against Algeria for cooperating with France. It was likely a thing unto itself in the broader campaign to escalate the Algerian front in AQIM’s jihad (others are better positioned to comment and contemplate this issue). In the end Algerians did not fight an expeditionary counterinsurgency war, and they appear not to have developed an appetite or capacity for one at any point in the last ten years; and they seem content with the Spetsnaz approach evidenced by the GIS and DSI at the gas plant than with more drawn out alternatives that cost more in credibility and effort.[13]

Permanent, Sovereign Shadows: Keeping Everyone in the Dark

Among Algerian and foreign analysts, Algeria’s decision-making processes are notoriously obscure. Even informed observers much rely heavily on what can only be called speculation and rumor (as mentioned elsewhere, this pouvoirology is a kind of Kremlinology for this amateur Algeria watcher). One must be conscious of the divisions in an Algeria that many believe operates on multiple levels – the one seen among journalists, social scientists, foreigners and citizens and the one seen by the unseen, the le pouvoir reel, the décideurs in the security services and the presidency, whose whims and actions those in the first Algeria are subjected to and whose motives remain out of view.[14] Rather much has been made in public writing of the Algerians’ refusal to inform foreign governments of their plans for the raid. On the one hand this behaviour is unsurprising and fits generally in line with popular stereotypes of Algerian decision-making since independence; this tendency to jealously guard the country’s national sovereignty in an attempt at keeping up a kind of permanent sovereignty over its military and economic posture explains Algeria’s avoiding becoming a Soviet client during the Cold War and its limited partnership with the United States, despite both countries’ leaders describing their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’.[15] On this one should consider that the Algerian government is frequently opaque for reasons that sometimes appear deliberate and at other times seem circumstantial. The Algerians are usually not seen as having high facility in public relations in the way other Arab regimes do in the Gulf, Morocco for example, investing significant sums in paid media consultants and firms who set up websites and visits for western officials to get their messages out.[16] Instead, the Algerians seem content to let their actions ‘speak’ for themselves (possibly seeing no incentive to elaborate because they do not perceive themselves as dependent on the largess of outsiders[17]), or let observers spin in confusion and speculation. Add to this that the Algerian leadership caste is going through biological and generational transition; the ‘clans’ that run the country’s politics and economy are led by aging and ill men whose factions are reportedly in the midst of competition over the arrangement of succession and rents. The current situation within the FLN seems symbolic of the country’s dilemma overall. In January and February wrangling and quarrels among the FLN party faithful over the leadership of the former secretary general Abdelaziz Belkhadem ejected from his post and set for replacement by central committee member Abdelrazzak Bouhara. But then the 79-year-old Bouhara suffered a stroke on 09 February. Weeks later he died, and the FLN was again at a logger heads over leadership, as critics of the ‘official,’ pro-Bouteflika leadership that have dominated it since 2004 continue to press for change in leadership and policy.[18] News reports that Bouteflika was ill in Geneva during the crisis put this into the broader context of Algeria’s slow process of generational transition and eventual transformation; along with the country’s anemic foreign policy in general, in which Bouteflika is known to have a special interest.[19] The key issue of late has been arranging a process of succession fighting over a fourth term, a vice presidency (via a constitutional amendment); in this state of affairs big questions seem likely to go unanswered until the biggest question (What is the boss’s status?) has an answer.

Algerian leaders have talked up security and the importance of securing the integrity of the state since the Arab uprisings began in 2011. This was a key theme is public opposition to the intervention in Libya and public comments as well as Algerian behaviour since the beginning of the rebellion Mali also point in this direction.  The Algerians have long resisted meaningful deployments of their military outside their own borders both before and after 2012.[20] Nonetheless the Algerians are aware that the south is strategically important to the country’s economic and geopolitical potential and position; that the south is at significant risk due to the crises in Mali and Libya; that in 2013 this area looks and is significantly more vulnerable to terrorist advances than it has been in the past; and that any sign of weakness on the part of the state would be provocative for its enemies and also critically damaging to its credibility abroad. Thus In Amenas seems to send an important message about where and how Algeria is willing to use force. The state will not hesitate to do whatever it sees fits within its own borders and to stop others from doing the same. Algerian leaders warned western governments about the risks associated with intervention in Libya and Mali, and feel they were not taken seriously. Reports describing Algerian leaders’ fears about ‘becoming Pakistan’ in the midst of a western war in Mali feed this view that the Algerians probably worry that any sign of weakness on their part involving the security of foreigners would also provoke pressure in western capitals to develop some capacity to intervene inside Algeria if need be (as thing go in places like Pakistan).[21] This was likely also intended to reassure domestic as well as foreign constituencies that Algeria’s security services could secure the south. Despite major troop and gendarme deployments, terrorist attacks by MUJWA in Tamanrasset and Ouargla in summer 2012, coupled by increases incidents of illicit activity in the fourth and sixth military regions over the last year have made southern Algeria appear more permeable than in the past.[22]

Despite the fragmentation of many historical power brokers and structures in its region over the last several years, the Algerians appear to remain wary of encirclement. By many accounts the Algerians have sought to divide western (especially European partners), undermining French influence in the EU by seeking to give preference to the United States on security issues. Highly suspicious of western efforts to coordinate counterterrorism cooperation though Algerian-led multilateral fora (which Algerians have liked to refer to as African), if not seeking to deliberately undermine them. The Algerians led regional efforts to combat AQIM in the Sahel, with the Comite d’etat-major operationnel conjoint (CEMOC) based at Tamanrasset, and the intelligence-focused support forum Unite de Fusion et Liason (UFL) in Algiers. The Algerians exercised maximum control as the largest and wealthiest of the participating countries and viewed efforts by western countries to obtain representation and say in these groupings. Algiers allowed its western partners only limited access to this activity, likely due to distrust of French influence in EU efforts and Algeria’s tendency to avoid deep security cooperation with western states, preferring instead to deal separately with powerful countries to dilute the ability of any one western capital to have what it would see as undue influence on its own decisions and on dynamics in the wider region it considered strategically relevant. This has been interpreted by some European observers as evidence of Algerian ambitions to create a ‘hegemonic’ area of influence in Mali, Niger and Mauritania; it seems more likely that Algeria is interested in isolating itself from complications related to western military engagement in the region and maintaining its own sovereignty by engaging foreign partners while keeping them at arm’s length nevertheless. The Algerians want what benefits they can get from ‘cooperation’ without the burdens that come from having a policy that makes them a direct actor in the region’s problems which they view as both numerous and likely to undermine security gains in their own borders; they prefer to present themselves as a neutralist, broker country, which they were able to do in past bouts of instability due to counter-pressures from Libya and the relative absence of extremist groups like AQIM and the mutations of local communities and factions it has helped crystalize.

Ag Ghali Assessment

It is interesting to at some writing Algerian evaluations and behaviour with respect to certain armed groups in Mali like Ansar Ed-Dine because it gets at some of the other issues discussed here. The New York Times wrote on 01 February:

 ALGIERS — To the Algerians, the desert warlord in the swirling blue robes was a man of his word — the key to managing the crisis next door in northern Mali — and for months they lodged his representative here in the Algerian capital in high style in one of the city’s finest hotels.

They were nurturing a viper. The warlord, as the Algerians well knew, was the leader of one of the militant Islamist groups holding northern Mali captive. That was not a deal-breaker, they reasoned. To the contrary, having tight connections with a powerful militant across the border, much as Pakistan does in Afghanistan, could protect their interests.

But instead of ensuring that the conflict remained outside their country, a longstanding imperative of the Algerians, the warlord, Iyad Ag Ghali, ended up bringing it right to them. His forces made a sudden push toward the Malian capital in January, enraging his Algerian patrons, bringing on a French military intervention and ultimately giving extremists a rallying cry to seize an Algerian gas field, leading to the deaths of at least 38 hostages.

“They told me they didn’t want to have anything more to do with me,” recalled Mr. Ag Ghali’s representative in Algeria, Mohamed Ag Aharib. The militant offensive in Mali, which set off the deadly chain of events, “really shocked the Algerians,” he said.

[. . . ]

The Algerians gambled that “Ansar Dine could be a counterweight to these attempts to erecting an independent Tuareg state,” Professor Klute said, so “they closed their eyes when Ansar Dine crossed the border” for “gas, cars, spare parts.”

The article goes on to quote current and former Algerian officials as referring to Ag Ghali as trust worthy and reliable. It also describes Ag Ghali’s transformation into an Islamist leader and his reputation as a perennial opportunist. The Algerians used Ag Ghali in the past and believed that their previous patterns of interaction would hold during the current crisis. Algerian mediation in northern Mali goes back decades and relied on a kind of notable politics based on pragmatic personalities backed up by local constituencies. This is strongly rooted in the Algerian state’s relationship with southern Algerian Tuaregs whose traditional leaders also play a role in implementing state policies and have close relations across the border. The Algerian strategy of attempting to play Ag Ghali and other Islamists off of one another and using clan and tribal leverage on Ag Ghali’s inner circles was opposed by France in particular as well as other armed factions in the region (the MNLA in particular). This was not an endeavor the Algerians were involved in alone; Burkina Faso also ran negotiations involving parts of Ansar Ed-Dine and other northern rebels. (Baki 7our has an interesting critique of this article which contrasts the piece’s comments by pundits with those of men from Ag Ghali’s inner circle quoted elsewhere.)

That option did not work and this became apparent by autumn 2012, especially to those who were skeptical, if not hostile, to its prospects from the beginning. Belief that this strategy could work relied on a basic assessment of Ag Ghali as opportunistic and more or less non-ideological (and potentially an implicit belief that past collaboration would condition him toward collaboration with the Algerians). This view was widespread among many observers early on in the rebellion; many people who spent significant time in and around northern Mali, westerners (of the Francophone and Anglophone varieties), Algerians and others, saw Ag Ghali’s move toward Salafism as an opportunistic ploy to rally supporters and either not authentic or of only limited importance in his political agenda or behaviour.[23] At the same time also recalls stories about Ag Ghali’s personal behaviour and devotion that contradicted the assumptions about his motives and convictions under lying the ‘Algerian’ assessment[24], often from people who were able to observe him directly in the later stages of his conversion to Salafism when he was rumored to sit beside the imams in mosques and coral youths to prayers. Algerian efforts to sway Ag Ghali (as well as other efforts to induce defections among Islamist groups) led some to see their disposition as one of promoting Islamism or Islamists as such in order to destabilize the region or to expand their zone of influence. That assessment of Ag Ghali and his circles appears to have been somewhat widespread until relatively late, helping to compound the errors of the countries attempting to manage the Sahel crisis at the strategic level.  The Algerians appeared to have come round to a more skeptical view of Ag Ghali closer to the end of 2012 and the run up to the Islamist groups’ offensive; by this time it was probably far too late to adjust their public position for the sake of saving face and because there were probably hold outs in favour of the existing strategy or because of strong opposition to intervention.[25]

The comparison of Algeria to Pakistan is interesting for circumstantial and contextual reasons, both when coming from Algerian and American writers.[26] In the Anglo-American context suspicion over Algerian intentions leads some to accuse Algiers of actively seeking to spread instability in Mali or elsewhere and is sometimes related to negative evaluations or moral qualms with the regime’s well known and ruthless use of infiltration and pseudo operations in the 1990s. One lane of thinking has Algerian motives in the region as dark and basically pernicious as far as the terrorism issue is concerned inside and outside Algeria. In public discourse this line tends to say: Algeria manipulated Islamist groups in the 1990s through extensive entryism; the GSPC cum AQIM has lineage from this period and groups; AQIM is thus under the control of the Algerian secret services in a plot to justify its security policies and win western support or control events in the region. This is fed by a lack of clarity about what Algeria ‘wants’ in northern Mali opens many doors analytically (the Algerian authorities are bad at public relations and information operations outside their own country for a complex of reasons that can be discussed elsewhere).[27] Here the comparison to Pakistan insinuates that Algeria has a vested interest in instability in the region or in Mali specifically. This view is strengthened by accusations from certain groups opposed to Ansar Ed-Dine in northern Mali as well as by those who are discontented with Algeria’s history of using noyautage and bleuite-like strategies in the past or by Algeria’s lack of transparency in its relations with western countries (or in general). A key (and probably not totally inaccurate) underlying assumption is that the Algerian government operates in more or less bad faith on the terrorism file, which comes from very common perspectives in Algeria that on the Algerian government’s inability to eliminate terrorism, despite years and supposedly heavy resources spent on the problem, comes from a desire to keep the problem going as a way of maintaining the prominence of the security state.[28] It should be noted that all things are possible and the motivations of the ‘deep state’ remain almost wholly opaque to outsiders and especially those operating in the public sphere; many things that appear untenable or unimaginable from one vantage point with one set of information now may indeed be quite plausible with more information and a stronger perspective gained over years.[29]

Algeria’s effort to move Ag Ghali in the its direction probably also speaks to the Algerians sense of the crisis in general, that Mali’s regional and institutional challenges were long standing and that the northern question is somewhat existential. The Algerians have looked at northern Mali with somewhat more patience than the other regional and international actors, something that is unsurprising given their proximity to the conflict and background in dealing with it.  The Algerians repeatedly urged extra-regional actors – such as France – to allow them more time to work their magic on Ansar Ed-Dine. The French had little time for this and were vocal skeptics of Algeria’s effort to find a ‘political solution’ to the crisis in Mali. Though the Algerians reportedly opened their airspace to French aircraft – a massively controversial decision in and of itself as well as in the context of Algeria changing its attitude toward armed intervention[30] – it is unlikely their over all posture will change in the short term beyond specific situations and with particular partners.


[1] The Algerians offered conspicuous support to the United States after 9/11 in the form of official visits and offers for counterterrorism cooperation. As Isabelle Werenfels (Managing Instability in Algeria, 2007) and Maxime Ait Kaki have observed, this was in part a means for Algiers to ‘rehabilitate’ itself in the international community more broadly and in the pursuit of the modernization of the Algerian military. That Algerian outreach to the United States was deliberate and mostly self-interested can be see in press accounts of Algerian support: ‘One recently retired U.S. intelligence officer who worked with Algeria’s intelligence ministries closely said that after 9-11, Algeria provided the U.S. with a list of more than 3,000 individuals it said had ties to al Qaeda and other jihadist factions. “Maybe 500 had some kind of connection,” this official said. “But the other 2,500 were just guys they didn’t like.”’

[2] This can be observed in its Libya, Syria and Mali policies during which it has rejected interventionism, frequently clashing with more aggressive Arab states like Qatar, and finding itself at odds with the United States and France.

[3] A significant body of literature has described Algeria’s foreign policy with respect to the Western Sahara in terms of hegemony and rivalry, but Algerian behaviour in negotiations over the issue do suggest strong ideological motives (see Mundy, ‘Algeria and the Western Sahara Dispute,’ pp. 5) yet the timeline of Algerian involvement indicates a heavily reactive posture from the beginning of the conflict. Additionally, Algerian behaviour on the issue in the last ten years appears to suggest the opposite of a campaign to assert hegemony in the region through this issue. Additionally, Algeria has rarely aggressively courted Mauritanian opinion over particulars in the dispute, or on regional issues not related to terrorism; instead it has tended to be Morocco and Libya that have sought to curry favour in Nouakchott over any range of issues on the Sahara or grandiose schemes, in the case of Qadhafi-era Libya. Indeed, the Moroccan reaction to the 2008 coup in Mauritania contrasted dramatically with Algeria’s; Algiers had no response until Morocco issued its own enthusiastic endorsement. Significant debate on this issue is possible and should be studied closely.

[4] As Luis Martinez has noted in his recent the Violence of Petro-Dollar Regimes (Hurst, 2012), one of the core objectives of Algeria’s post-independence nationalist leaders, especially in their nationalization of the energy sector, was to ‘prevent any return to the historical conditions that had made colonization possible’. Algeria’s enduring extreme sensitivity to its borders and sovereignty derives in no small part from this legacy during and immediately after French colonization. It is occasionally forgotten that Algeria has been embroiled in border disputes with its neighbors on multiple occasions, Morocco and Libya particularly. Algerian independence was greeted by a land war with Morocco in 1963, a war that was traumatic mainly because it came when Algeria was still ‘hot’ from the war with France and it overlapped with Hocine Ait Ahmed’s revolt in Kabylia, and was seen as part of an effort to tear the new nation apart; Algeria saw Morocco as having expansionist ambitions as a result and watched its partition of the Western Sahara with alarm, seeing it as an effort at encirclement. Libyans claims to zones on the eastern border led to tense relations in the 1960s and 1970s; border disputes with Morocco lasted through the 1980s and 1990s; Libyan encouragement of Tuareg separatism from the late 1960s and 1970s on was seen as a direct attack on Algeria’s sovereignty. From the Algerian perspective, they have reason to be paranoid about their neighbors. For much the late Cold War, Algeria perceived its neighbors as constantly seeking to diminish its potential for leadership in the region (and the sentiment was mutual in Rabat and Tripoli; the alliances between Hassan II and Mu’amar al-Qadhafi at various points were deliberately targeted at Algiers just as Algiers’s support for the POLISARIO, despite ideological imperatives, were (and are) directly targeted at undermining Rabat). Despite this background Algeria has had an affirmative foreign policy on a range of activist issues, including national liberation movements, the Palestinian issue (in the 1970s especially), the Non-Allied Movement, energy issues and others, but in the Maghreb, where the basic agenda of its policy in other parts of the world is formed, it has tended over time toward a defensive and relatively parochial position with respect to borders and the POLISARIO which has legalistic backing in the African Union and most other major international organizations, with the exception of the Arab League, where it tends to put minimal emphasis unless the organization is imposed on it, as in the case of Libya. It has overall sought a position of self-reliance, keeping all major powers at an arm’s length.

[5] Additionally, southern Algeria, until relatively late, was seen as ‘safe’ compared to the north to such an extent that large numbers of northerners migrated to the big southern towns, including Tamanrasset and Ouargla and Illizi to such an extent that in some areas northern transplants out number historic residents.  At the same time, It is worth noting that the Algerian security forces have long struggled to secure their border with Mali and Libya and under-resourced military commanders in the sixth and fourth regions, which were evidently seen as secondary priorities compared to the northern regions (the First, Second and Third and Fifth regions), where the bulk of the Algerian population lives and where the GSPC/AQIM were most heavily active before the development of the Sahel crisis. See here and here on increases in insecurity in Illizi province in recent months.

[6] The Algerian secret services famously negotiated with elements of the armed movement in the late 1990s –1997 and 1999 — and attempted to negotiate with MUJWA the release of their diplomats seized from their consulate in Gao in 2012 via third party cutaways sometimes reported as belonging to Ansar Ed-Dine or the MNLA in the Algerian press. They also successfully brought on the defection of senior GSPC cum AQIM leaders, such as Hassan Hattab in the 2000s, and according to many accounts attempted to do the same with Mokhtar Belmokhtar earlier in the last decade.

[7] The attack in Ouargla (a province with what on paper appears to be an ample security presence from the regular military), farther north than In Amenas, suggests some possibility of local collaboration and possible sympathy in a province with substantial energy deposits. This is reinforced by recent news in the Algerian press that members of Ansar Ed-Dine have been arrested as far north as Ouargala in March 2013.

[8] This is clear in the extent to which Malian military men reportedly told western trainers that AQIM was a western problem; the Malians saw Tuaregs and northern separatists as a greater threat than terrorism. This perspective is reflected in Malian and Nigerien references to groups like AQIM, MUJWA and Ansar Ed-Dine as ‘foreigners’ – referring to Algerian and Mauritanian Arab leaders and members, mainly – ignoring the significant recruitment of Malians into these groups at the leadership and operational level, particularly during the Islamist occupation of the north. Laurence Aida Ammour aptly links this ‘inability to even define the enemy’ as a key reason for the flimsiness of Algerian-led regional anti- and counterterrorism efforts.

[9] The civil war expanded the entry points for historical legitimacy beyond those directly associated with the war of independence. Those who could not find legitimacy as mujahidine in the war with France or as their children could find it in mass organizations for the victims of terrorism (an extension of Zeroual’s ‘revolutionary family’). As Louis Martinez has written, the Islamist armed groups offered a part of a generation of Algerians their own opportunity for mujahidine status as well.

[10] On this see paragraph two of note 20 below. At the same time, small numbers of Algerians have attended elite training courses in the US, and the UK has a(n) (on and off) background of involving Algerians studying in British naval schools and courses.

[11] It is an interesting exercise to attempt to periodize the current crisis in Mali as the output of the Algerian civil war’s poor digestive tract further irritated by the Libyan civil war while accounting for the long term collapse of the Malian state and ethnic grievance in Mali. But this is probably other people’s business.

[12] The offer for ‘negotiations’ by Belmokhtar was likely interpreted as unserious and intended to humiliate Algiers in the international media.

[13] ‘Algeria primarily follows a defensive approach, seeking to limit the influence of others, but wary about exercising power beyond its own borders.’ (‘A Coherent EU Strategy for the Sahel,’ DG for External Policies of the Union Study, May 2011.) One explanation for recent Algerian cautiousness about transitions in neighbouring countries has to do with the direction of its own civil conflict from a botched managed transition to a gory civil war into a regional crisis. This is probably especially the case with Libya.

[14] It used to be the case that the activities of the security services were rarely discussed in the Algerian press; in the last several years the DRS has become more and more a subject of news items and editorials. A bold example was Hocine Malti’s ‘open letter’ DRS boss Mohamed Mediene in February, published in El Watan. At the same time, stories mentioning the DRS, especially related to corruption investigations in SONATRACH, usually involving members of Bouteflika’s entourage or the DRS’s role in fighting terrorism in the Sahara (one can track such stories particularly from the time of the appointment of Gen. Bachir Tartag in late 2011 on through recent stories about the DRS operating in Algeria, Mali and Niger in coordination with France and Malian forces searching for the Algerian diplomats held by MUJWA; certain press accounts of the raid at In Amenas, highlighting the role of the GIS and other present commando units are also good examples) have served as a means of demonstrating the organization’s power and to damage its rivals as well as to increase its prestige and competence. Corruption at SONATRACH was also once a major taboo; the fact that so much attention has gone toward corruption there in recent year suggests a campaign aimed at Bouteflika’s people, probably similar to the one waged against Zeroual’s people in the late 1990s. Of course, it is  desirable to hold out other explanations for such things in one’s head.

[15] Soviet accounts of cooperation with the Algerians during the Cold War have Soviet advisors regarding the Algerians as excessively paranoid, secretive and hesitant to submit to advice from senior Soviet advisors whom they reportedly ignored or decided not to consult on a regular basis, especially into the 1970s (‘Soviet people were working in difficult conditions. Sometimes they had to overcome the mistrust and suspicion of their Algerian colleagues, and consider in work and life the national and religious characteristics of the Arab people, being diplomts and psychologists.’ (See ‘Military De-mining in Algeria,’ in ‘Soviet Military Asssistance to the Countries of Africa (1962-1979)). Despite its overwhelming reliance on Soviet armaments and technical aid, Algeria routinely shirked the Soviet diplomatic agenda in the Non-Allied Movement and United Nations (see Andrew, Christopher, The World was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Newly Revealed Secrets from the Mitrokhin Archive, (2005), pp. 90, 434; see also Lassassi, Assassi, Non-Alignment and Algerian Foreign Policy (1988), pp. 150-160). Similar observations have been made lately with respect to the US-Algerian relationship. Not unlike with the Soviets, the Algerians have a distinctive approach to international politics and perception of the region they live in that the US has seemingly ignored in making major decision (or indecisions in the case of much of its ‘policy’ with respect to the Sahel. Indeed, Washington and Algiers appear to have relatively little in common in terms of worldview beyond the terrorism and energy files, in no small part because at least one party may only wants the relationship to go so far. It is also probable that the expectations of outside observers may have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations regarding US-Algerian cooperation. And it should be noted that ‘strategic partnerships’ in Algerian foreign policy are somewhat wide-spread with some of them appear contradictory on first glance. In this way, Algeria is similar to the United States.

Algeria’s post-independence leaders were sensitive to the deep divisions among them and the country at large; ethno-regional divisions contributed to crises in the pre-1954 anti-colonial leadership and were consciously suppressed by FLN leaders during the war (and still exploited with some effect by French counterinsurgents), only to reemerge violently in the 1960-1965 period. In the parti unique period FLN leaders stressed collegiality as a major principle in decision-making and political processes. Additionally the revolutionary generation and post-independence political class have strong sentiments of ownership and/or solidarity over issues related to sovereignty and the country’s natural resources. Political opposition was often seen as dangerously divisive, threatening the survival of the nation as well as insulting the honor of those in authority, who felt intense sentiments of righteousness and often questioned the motivation of even light criticism. This mefience in political life meant that many leaders felt it was better for dissent and disagreement to be voiced privately, rather than publicly so as to avoid conflict and external exploitation. Given the relatively prominent of political violence in Algeria’s post-independence history, one can speculate that such perceptions as those formed during the war of independence were similarly replicated over time, in addition to being passed on from mentors to protégés and through families, in the security and political establishments especially; it is also likely that such tendencies have mutations in the generations that fought through the 1990s. (Each decade since independence has seen at least two major outbreaks of internal violence that required elicited active state repression of one kind or another, although the Boumediene and Bouteflika periods are distinctive in both are long periods characterized by relatively lower levels of such violence though neither were without important outbreaks of political violence (including those unrelated to terrorism under Bouteflika, such as the 2001 Tafsuth)). Conversations and opinion pieces in El Watan over the last 10 years suggest the civil war re-enforced beliefs (previously developed by some maquisards and military elites during the war with France with respect to factions of the internal and external FLN/ALN, a source of tension in the 1960-1965 period) that Algeria had suffered violence and disintegration on its own, without adequate solidarity or from outsiders. Western and even Arab countries that were to have refused to assist the Algerian state in fighting ‘terrorism’ during the 1990s over human rights or other concerns when the state was losing control now seek its assistance in combating terrorism in the Sahel. The civil war is often described as a war in which the Algerians fought their internal enemies without external moral or materiel support (World Bank and IMF assistance and deb rescheduling in this period is not prominent as part of the counter insurgency but was important in increasing state liquidity and in allowing selective privatizations that made key parts of the late 1990s political agenda possible).

It is also probably the case that apprehension over the direction of the Arab Spring and concurrent sentiments of encirclement – especially with respect to military intervention by western (‘NATO’ powers in much Algerian discourse) – has contributed to a kind of Hobbesian bunker mentality. Interventionism, especially when associated Gulf support for armed and Islamist-influence rebel factions in Libya and Syria are seen as part of broader conspiracy to undermine the non-religious Arab states, including Algeria. Western efforts to bring Algeria into military interventions are seen as a plot to drag Algeria away from sacred cows linked to non-interference and non-alignment. Anouar Boukhars outlined some of these sentiments with respect to the Arab Spring and their impact on Algerian foreign policy since 2011 in the Winter 2013 Sentinel.

At the same time, given that Algeria is the midst of a major generational transition at the leadership level and is confronted by a massive youth bulge like the rest of the region, one should be careful not to apply stereotypes or common views that have relevance for relatively specific class and professional groupings to the whole country. Something like 70% of Algerians are under 30 and lived through only part of the civil war; it is not likely to be the case that ‘the memory of the civil war’ maintains a hold on the political or disruptive inclinations of Algerians in the south, parts of the far east and even other places as it does for elites in Algiers and the areas hardest hit during the civil war. Additionally, massive numbers of Algerians have attended [relatively] newly minted universities in the rural and remote wilayat that were established in since the mid and late 1980s; enrollments have increased notably. Unlike previous generations, prospective elites from the south other more isolate regions do not need to travel to Algiers or the north for university educations unless they have the means and chose to do so; others have graduated with degrees and sought jobs in the energy sector only to find that Algerian northerners and foreigners get the choice posts leaving locals out to dry. Socialized mostly beyond the capital and beyond the ‘national’ elite from the north unemployed graduates and youths may become disillusioned with a rentier economy that leaves illicit work as the main potential source of income in large parts of the south. Antagonism between northern officials and southern notables, youth and others will likely increase in coming years. One increasingly hears northern politicians and intellectuals express fears that in parts of southern Algeria there is talk of secession and separatism where such views were previously non-existent. The crisis in the Sahel, increase in drug trafficking, violent extremist groups and related traumas undermine the perseverance of the old styles of rent-distribution where the government invested relatively significant sums in southern wilayat while compensating for the lack of gainful, legal employment by letting southern populations engage in black and grey market activity with some impunity so long as the authority and security of the area was not fundamentally undermined.

[16] Algerian ‘public diplomacy’ around issues like the Western Sahara, countering claims of the external opposition and human rights groups, energy security and other key issues, is hardly noticeable in many western capitals. Rabat outspends Algiers on lobbying by something like four times in the United States. The flurry of interviews with Algerian ministers in English-language newspapers in particular since In Amenas indicates how the Algerians have had to play ‘catch-up’ since and how the intensification of the crisis in the Sahel and attention given to Algeria in the international media has caused its leaders to give more credence to world opinion. Indeed, the amount of time Algeria’s leaders gave to the international press after In Amenas was exceptional (for example Time magazine, which is a good example of a kind of Anglophone publication which probably would not have gotten the kind of access it did if not for a crisis scenario of some magnitude).  One wonders if this will cause culture change in the Algerian leadership with respect to public relations in general, though glances in this direction in the 2001-2002 period and to a more limited extent in the late 2000s all succumbed to the traditional posture that favours opacity, secrecy and omission. Compared to Algeria’s obscure modesty, can barely enjoy the arts at a local university or in some parts of Washington, DC or certain American university towns without encountering public relations campaigns or cultural propaganda sponsored by some media firm paid by the ministry of education or culture of one or the other Gulf Arab state or Morocco. On the Western Sahara file and the promotion of national images, the extent to which those working on behalf of Moroccan interests go to promote the Western Sahara agenda, recruiting anyone willing or able to write in favour of this or that royal initiative.

[17] Which is not to say Algerians are not sensitive to European or other accusations on human rights, investment laws or other controversial issues; instead domestic priorities win out because of the relative lack of leverage such external powers actually have in Algiers and perhaps a level of confidence in the regime’s core that competitors can dealt with through cooptation (rent payouts, political appeasement, etc.) or repression.

[18] After former FLN secretary-general Ali Benflis challenged Bouteflika for the presidency in 2004, many believe with the backing of the military until the eleventh hour, Bouteflika’s faction in the party banished many of Benflis’s supporters from prominent roles and left them on the margin within the party. Though there is a surprising level of turn over within large parts of the FLN, it may be the case that much of the ruckus over Belkhadem during the last three or so years has to do with former Benflis supporters or FLN cadres from eastern Algeria who feel Bouteflika’s ‘Nedroma clan’ has wielded too much control and see flux within the pouvoir as an opportunity to regain prominence and win greater support from the deep state and military. Many complaints about Belkhadem revolve around his ‘crypto-Islamist’ public persona, old-school statism, closeness to the president versus party cadres, citing instances where he has sided with the government over votes from within party sections and so on (FLN supporters who are not part of the ‘up’ clan in the party usually describe those in leadership roles as inauthentic and out of touch, while the rest of the party as belonging to the ‘true’ or ‘real’ FLN).

[19] Prominent Algerian leaders who have died of natural causes or cancers in the last few years, include Ahmed Ben Bella, Chadli Bendjedid, Larbi Belkheir, Mohamed Lamari, Smain Lamari, and other notable leaders or power brokers. The lack of clear successors from these men’s generation or in the next generation below them after the events the last year makes it obvious that 2013 and especially 2014 and 2015 will be interesting years. As Abdel Nasser Djabi wrote last April in one of the more important essays on Algeria in the ‘Arab Spring’ yet, Algeria may be ‘in a situation that is quite similar to the last phase of the Soviet era, when the entire political leadership reached old age at the same time, since most of them were the offspring of the same generation. This is the phase of the biological end of an entire generation, with all the expected political and institutional repercussions, sharply affecting the projects of political transitions, similar to the last days of the Soviet experiment.’ (Djabi, ‘The Impasse of Political Transition in Algeria: Three Generations and Two Scenarios‘)

[20] The Algerians are probably also hesitant to send armed men across the border because involving state personnel in any armed engagement against tribes with members on both sides of the border risks igniting unrest in Algeria itself. Killing the kinsmen of Tuareg who live, trade, travel or have settled as refugees in Algeria could jeopardize the state’s influence over notables and elites in its southern provinces, where the government has put relatively significant emphasis on promoting development and coopting tribal and clan leaders, including tolerating illicit trade in foodstuffs and electronics and probably drugs. Comments from the Ahaggar Amenokal about the futility of armed intervention in Mali and how it would only reap additional conflict reflect this view to some extent. Nonetheless, they did send trainers to northern Mali and Mauritania and announced joint patrols with the Nigerien military on the eve of the 2012 rebellion in Mali (it is also noteworthy that in general terms the only regional milities that have spent any significant time killing members of AQIM and its associated groups are the Algerians, Mauritanians, and Nigeriens). Nonetheless it is likely that the Algerians will remain both cautious in hopes of appeasing southern communities and placing itself in a position where it can position itself as a negotiator, a role that may be challenged by other regional actors like Morocco which has kept a relatively understated eye on the conflict and leveraged some resources towards groups with poor relations with Algeria, partly in hopes of monitoring potential blowback from Sahraouis traveling to Mali from their own territory and from the RASD zones in Algeria. The Moroccans also appear to be courting Euro-American and ECOWAS decision- and opinion-makers for a more prominent role through media and other means. The potential for competition between Algiers and Rabat over a mediator role is likely to be complicated and probably less desirable than it presently appears.

[21] One occasionally detects a kind of extreme paranoia about the motivations of the United States among Algerians of multiple backgrounds and ages; to the extent that even relatively important, elite technicians view Americans as necessary allies as well as imperialist conspirators against Arab or Third World interests is often a relatively fine line; Third Worldist and Arab nationalist (or the relatively more religiously-oriented version of this trend, which holds on to many of the same causes with Islamic accenting, that is more popular with many younger Algerians remains a prominent part of many Algerians’ world views. Suspicion of American motives and foreign policy endures even in the age of Obama.

[22] These incidents included suicide attacks on gendarme posts in relatively heavily guarded garrison towns.

[23] This may also related to popular stereotypes (especially popular among many in France) about Tuaregs being ‘secular’ or relatively irreligious because many have been known to drink, listen to music and to party (at a public conference in Washington a speaker recently described Tuaregs as ‘not even really Muslim’ because of lax practice and because they were ‘converted’ to Islam as if Muslims or Islam are defined by fanaticism or by rigorous practice or any population that is now mostly Muslim was not at some point converted to it from something else. One would hardly ever hears about African converts to Christianity who are lax in their practice referred to as not really Christian or impervious to bad ideas. These are themselves related to other stereotypes about Islam in northwest Africa with its complex of brotherhoods and saint cults as well as the people, who are sometimes called ‘gentle’ and impervious to Islamism; these views often impede analysis and this blogger has sometimes fallen into this trap when thinking about the region in the past.

[24] As stated elsewhere it is hard to describe this assessment as solely an Algerian one; again, many people who spent time with or thinking about Ag Ghali and his past behaviour shared this view of him as a pragmatist, and occasionally based their view that he was under Algerian influence or direction in his quarrels with other factions in Mali on that assumption. Others saw it in the pattern of Algerian penetration into AQIM and took it as evidence the Algerians were running the whole show. It should be noted that the Algerian intelligence services do have a history in cultivating and favouring factions and individuals in northern Mali, especially in support of higher priority efforts in the Western Sahara (for example, failed attempts to recruit Tuaregs  to fight against Morocco with the POLISARIO in the late 1970s) or Algerian-led peace processes dating back to the 1980s. This likely also includes shaping and conditioning elements in northern Mali for such initiatives. (Note that other countries secret services have been present and active in northern Mali, including those of Morocco and Mauritania for some time.)  There are relatively scanty details about these efforts by Algeria. See Lecocq: Disputed Desert: Decolonisation, Competing Nationalisms and Tuareg Rebellions in Northern Mali (BRILL, 2010), pp. 229 and pp. 229 f 81; 234-236, especially 235 and 235 f 87-88; 241-24.  On perceptions of the Algerian secret services’ role in the border areas between Algeria and Mali see Scheele, Smugglers and Saints of the Sahara: Regional Connectivity in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 119-120; on the role of Algerians and Algerian nationality in licit and illicit activities see Scheele, pp. 97-98 (including fs 3, 4 and 6), on the leveraging of Algerian passports and nationality for political purposes by the Algerian services in Kidal see Scheele, pp. 156 and 157 f 60. On the role of the Mauritanian security services in Mali see Scheele, pp. 121 f 48. See here for a detailed look at the Algerian posture.

[25] By all accounts skepticism and opposition to the intervention on an ideological basis remains widespread.

[26] It should be noted here that the paragraph here only discusses comparisons by western writers, as opposed to Algerian ones which have been discussed by this writer elsewhere. The Algerian discussion of the Pakistan comparison is more to do with a destructive relationship with the United States or Europe that weakens Algeria’s sovereignty by opening it to foreign military bases in support for a proxy war in a weak neighbouring country (Mali usually becomes Afghanistan in this frame). The Algerian and American comparisons reflect the distance between the official relationship between the countries and their populations’ and elites’ perception of events in the world.

[27] Some reports have it that the Algerian military has had ‘communications officers’ only since 2001. (Werenfels, Isabelle, Managing Instability in Algeria: Elites and Political Change since 1995, 2007, pp. 60.)

[28] This view is common among many Algerians, both those who have been members of pro-government and opposition camps as well as ordinary people. While not universal it is especially well represented in the diaspora and certain intellectual circles. Outside of Algeria it is lent credence by the memoirs and public comments of defectors from the military and intelligence services, such as Mohamed Samraoui, Abdelkader Tigha, Karim Moulai and Habib Souaidia which have alleged manipulation on a mass scale and either directly or indirectly accused the government of pseudo operations involving outright false flag massacres and attacks. The accounts of other defectors (for example for the Air Force defector Benamar Bennatta) are less readily available in public. Khaled Nezzar admitted that the Algerian security services infiltrated and manipulated the armed groups and the body of accounts from defectors and human rights reporting, even considering inconsistencies and open-ended questions in certain accounts, suggests misconduct was probably as common as in any dirty war. (It is difficult to gauge the political impact of these accounts inside Algeria over the last ten years especially in the context of the wider malaise that is readily observable in the country and remaining taboos about the security services, despite increasing discussion of their political and economic role which was untouchable in the press until relatively recently.) This component of the war years is more accessible in French (especially in print, having received significant coverage in the international French press than in English papers and most defectors’ accounts were originally written in French) and Arabic (an increasing amount of information from defectors is available on the Arabic-language Internet, promoted by defectors running YouTube accounts and blogs in Arabic) than other aspects of the civil war, which is usually concerned with ideological elements or with the war’s relevance for international jihadism or terrorism.

On the issue of bad faith, it is reasonable to wonder about Algeria’s motivations in its interactions with western powers. The Algerians have relatively narrow interests in defence cooperation with western militaries, which involve sophisticated surveillance and reconnaissance technologies and support. The Algerians often appear hesitant to invest heavily in joint training events with foreign militaries, sending what are sometimes considered less impressive troops; the Algerians probably understand that military-military relationships are as much about establishing lines of influence and communication that can subvert or circumvent formal controls. American military and civilian officials openly discussed using such military-military relationships with Egyptian officers in the press during 2011 as the Mubarak regime crumbled. American officers or administrators had such frequent and intimate contact with Egyptian military and security personnel due to training in Egypt and the United States that they could call important men to feel out the situation and position themselves to influence events (this is described in some depth in David Sanger’s Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of Force (2012) and Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture: The War on Terrorism and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (2012)). Algerian hesitance to participate in ceding relative control at this level in exchange for greater cooperation has roots that go far back to conditions and behaviors mentioned in note fifteen above, and above all a desire to maintain as much control over the military as possible and prevent perceived exploitation through opacity.

[30] As mentioned on this blog previously, elite reactions to this decision were heavily mixed. Reactions of ordinary people, especially in private, indicate revulsion and contempt for the decision. Indeed, the decision is shocking and even if one believed Algeria would not actively obstruct a military intervention while not participating it forces one to question the plausibility of such a decision and also view it in terms of France’s previous use of blackmail to pressure other countries into complying with its demands, for example its maneuvering toward the United States in the run up to the Libya intervention and its mechanizations with respect to ECOWAS in its desperation to force through a military intervention. This is especially the case given how France announced Algeria’s ‘agreement’ so publicly (a French minister announcing an Algerian ‘decision’ in 2013 can be described as little else than a humiliation for Algiers) after its president expressed understanding of Algerian suffering during the war of independence. It is probably possible that no such agreement was reached at all and that some other country is providing use of its airspace, as theories in rumours and on some Algerian blogs and in conversations with knowledgeable people have it. See: ‘Et si les rafales Français n’avaient pas traversé l’Algérie pour bombarder le Mali?’ 21 January 2013.

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