By Jemal Oumar
Mauritania will host international military exercises next week for 19 European, Arab and African countries.
The initiative, which includes members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is part of the enhanced security strategy implemented in response to the crisis in neighbouring Mali.
“The exercises that begin Monday (February 18th) will benefit the Mauritanian state by improving the performance of the army,” Colonel Tayeb Ould Ibrahim said Monday in Assaba.
Another move included the opening last weekend of National Gendarmerie commands in eastern and central Mauritania. Battalions and command centres will cover Brakna, Tagant, Gorgol and Guidimaka, Hodh Ech Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi and Assaba.
This heavy military presence covers inland areas that in recent years witnessed serious terrorist incidents, including the abduction and murders of both Mauritanian security officers and westerners.
The new security measures encompass more than two-thirds of the Mauritanian territory, especially high-risk zones adjacent to armed terrorist groups.
“This step comes in the wake of years where terrorists managed to hit targets in the heart of Mauritanian territory, by taking advantage of the lack of security outside the capital,” journalist Mohamed Ould Zein told Magharebia.
“Today, the Mauritanian government realised the need to change that policy and enhanced security presence in the remote provinces that are the target of terrorists,” he said.
The move coincides with international efforts to consolidate stability in Mali.
The Mali intervention by African and French forces comes at a time when “the world is calling for combating Islamist extremists who are threatening the Sahel”, Malian journalist Moussa Mega told Magharebia.
“Malians should now realise that they represent the spearhead in the face of terrorist groups dangerous to the security of neighbouring countries and the rest of the world. Therefore it is imperative for them to strengthen their internal front to confront that threat”.
The situation in Northern Mali remained volatile after the escalation of airstrikes and ground combat. In response to the heavy losses suffered by the Islamist fighters, the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) attempted suicide attacks against Malian and French troops.
Armed groups have vowed reprisals across the region.
Fear of fresh attacks were high, following a call from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for a holy war, AFP reported.
Mauritanian authorities have taken these threats into account and tightened security around some foreign embassies in Nouakchott as well as around the building of the European Union.
The commander of African forces in Mali, General Shehu Abdulkadir, also stressed that French, African and Malian troops were preparing an operation to free seven French hostages held by terrorist groups in the Ifoghas mountains.
“We are working on it, but I cannot disclose our plan,” he said.