By Jemal Oumar
France and Britain may soon launch counter-terrorism operations in the north of Mali and Niger, according to El Khabar.
The two countries are preparing to “collect as much intelligence as possible by flying aerial reconnaissance missions, conducting tapping and monitoring operations of some sites where the organisation elements move, and also collecting information on the ground”, according to the Algerian daily. Operations may reportedly include “physical liquidations” of terrorist leaders.
The goal of the operation, which was considered a few months ago, is to put an end to kidnappings of Western nationals and prevent al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from targeting Western interests in the region.
“This is dictated by the policy of intelligence co-operation and integrated security co-ordination between the field countries and Western, African and Arab intelligence agencies to combat terrorism which has become a global, rather than regional, concern and which has now gone beyond the concept of sovereignty,” analyst Bachir Ould Babanah told Magharebia.
A series of security summits were held in Sahel capitals, including meetings of “5+5” chiefs of staff, commanders of naval forces and intelligence chiefs, to boost co-operation.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s last year “statement that enhancing the capabilities of intelligence agencies and collecting information and co-operating with security agencies in Africa is essential for countering terrorism, attests to the role that intelligence agents in each country play for the interest of other countries”, Ould Babanah added.
“The French-British efforts are proceeding in deliberate steps in co-ordination with regional countries in terms of collecting intelligence and setting the goals that should be focused on,” terrorism affairs analyst Lakhlifa Ould Sidi Mohamed said.
According to El Khabar, Algeria refused to grant these countries a permission to fly helicopters and transport special forces planes from its soil or in airspace.
“Algeria’s position in this issue is not new, and is considered one of the pillars of Algerian foreign policy in dealing with al-Qaeda in the Sahel,” terrorism analyst Dr. Hussain Ould Medou explained. “These pillars reject any direct foreign military intervention in the region, saying that the war on al-Qaeda must be done on the level of field countries through co-ordination and joint military efforts on the one hand, and through co-ordination and co-operation with western countries on the other hand.”
Algeria is particularly wary of French military involvement, given that Algeria “has always argued that French intervention has other dimensions that go beyond the declared goals of combating al-Qaeda”, Ould Medou added.
Analyst Riadh Ould Ahmed El Hadi, however, doubted that the French-British move would go “beyond intelligence operations because of the tense security situation in the region due to the war between Touareg rebels and Malian government”.
“Touaregs may consider such foreign intervention as favouring the Malian government, which may make them ally with al-Qaeda,” Ould Ahmed El Hadi warned. “Therefore, any military intervention in the region depends on the results of the on-going conflict there.”
For his part, analyst Mokhtar Salem said that the Western countries may delay their operation fearing that “such attack may lead to the killing of hostages, which would mean the abortion of the current Malian mediation efforts to free them”.