By Walid Ramzi
The Algerian military is running combat simulation exercises on rocky terrain, ahead of possible confrontations against armed Islamists and terrorist brigades from northern Mali.
Since al-Qaeda and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) are well-armed with weapons smuggled from Libya and stolen from within Mali, the Algerian army is taking an unconventional approach similar to guerrilla warfare
Algerian army, air force, national gendarmerie and special operation forces have trained all month in ways to conduct large-scale battles against armed groups, El Khabar reported on Sunday (December 23rd).
These drills, which involve the use of modern communication devices and strategies, will run for a whole year.
The Algerian defence ministry mobilised ground forces towards southern provinces at the beginning of the month. Military vehicles and heavy equipment were moved to the border provinces of Adrar, Tamanrasset and Illizi.
The ministry aims to implement a shield plan along the southern border with Sahel countries. The decision was made as part of arrangements made by Algeria’s security agencies to prepare for any possible military action by African forces in northern Mali.
Algeria’s security agencies have also taken other measures to tighten control over the border with Mali, Libya and Tunisia. One such move is to crack down on groups that provide militants with information, money and supplies. The security agencies have also imposed a security cordon on border areas to prevent terrorist groups from entering northern Mali to join the Islamist groups.
“The information available to Algerian security agencies confirms that there is a relation of co-operation and co-ordination between smuggling gangs, armed terrorist groups and arms trade mafia along the border strip between Algeria and Tunisia,” Algerian Customs Information Director Buanam Majbar said.
Counter-terror agencies recently warned border security, army and gendarmerie forces against the smuggling of arms across the border. Security agencies also learned that MUJAO is seeking to recruit poor Algerians from southern provinces in return for money paid to their families.
“These military drills are aimed at evaluating the preparedness of security elements and their ability to deal with new developments on the ground,” security expert Taher Ben Thamer told Magharebia.
“The army is required to deal with all possible scenarios, including the assumption that a large number of militants will escape into Algeria in case the military campaign takes place in northern Mali; something that may pose a real threat to Algeria,” he added.
Algerian authorities have arrested 38 terrorists since last September on the southern border with Mali and Libya. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) members are accused of smuggling arms towards the group’s strongholds and of engaging in terrorist activities.
In mid-December, the army’s special operations forces thwarted an attempt by AQIM recruits to head to northern Mali. Security forces seized heavy machine guns, ammunition, explosive materials and communication devices.
Two days prior, security forces on the Algerian-Malian border arrested six terrorists.
A military aircraft had spotted them entering Algeria from Mauritania on their way to northern Mali.