By Walid Ramzi
Government ministers from Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger met in Washington this week to further their new multilateral approach to Sahel security.
The two-day meeting, which wrapped up on Tuesday (March 9th), was a “qualitative step” in establishing the regional counter-terror partnership proposed at the Sahel security summit in Algiers, Algerian Minister for Maghreb and African Affairs Abdelkader Messahel said.
Messahel and the foreign ministers of Mali, Mauritania and Niger met with several senior US officials, including President Barack Obama’s chief counter-terror advisor John Brennan.
International partners now consider the four Sahel states as one party in talks, Messahel noted Monday.
This week’s meeting in Washington complemented several recent political, military and intelligence conferences held by regional governments, including the Bamako summit that led to new intelligence-sharing measures.
In addition to the Sahel summits, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity over terrorism concerns and fallout from the Libyan revolution. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Maghreb, Raymond Maxwell, recently visited Algiers where he said that the US was exploring ways to “sell military equipment to Algeria in the framework of combating terrorism”.
“US efforts are aimed at curbing the activities of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region, combating drug and human trafficking and all types of smuggling,” the official said.
The US official acknowledged that there was an “important” partnership between Algeria and US based on “friendship”, expressing his country’s hope to enhance bilateral relations. He added that the multiple recent official visits confirmed the “two countries have many common interests”.
The US interest in co-operating with Sahel countries in combating terrorism is due to the “organisation that distinguishes these countries”, according to security affairs expert Lies Boukraa. He noted that working with the US in counter-terrorism was essential and necessary in terms of sharing intelligence, training, technology, and economic development.
Boukraa said that Sahel countries were capable of combating terrorism and organised crime in a collective, organised and agreed upon framework, but this would only take place when they unify their efforts and draw up a clear strategy.
The expert also noted new threats to the region emanating from organised crime and weapons smuggling from Libya. The heavy weapons, including portable surface-to-air missiles, could strengthen both the terrorist groups and organised crime gangs.
Another concern is that the Sahel, already one of the poorest regions of the world, faces a burgeoning youth population that requires resources to prevent youths from joining criminal or terrorist groups.
“This is an important challenge, given the relation between security stability and development,” Boukraa said.