By Lamine Ghanmi
To secure its place as regional military power, Algeria is likely to do everything in its power to prevent major attack.
The Algerian Army and Air Force have been put on high alert after top military officials warned that a fresh build-up of jihadist fighters threatened to infiltrate the country through Libya and Mali, Algeria’s main newspaper reported.
Most of Algeria’s 6,385km land frontier has been under military control since 2014 when Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika transferred border control operations from the Ministry of the Interior to the army.
“Facing a great challenge, Algeria has not only increased the number of troops on its borders but put its military troops stationed on the Libyan and Mali borders on alert number one,” Salima Tlemçani wrote in El Watan newspaper.
A veteran Algerian journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had learned from a military source there had been “increased sorties from jet fighters and helicopters scanning the sky over the border” and that troops had been put on “the maximum alert”.
El Watan reported the alert notice was given by Algeria’s top military authority, although it was unclear whether the reference was to Bouteflika, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, or General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the country’s top-ranking military commander.
El Watan said the alert was delivered after military intelligence gave indication of an increasingly deteriorating situation in Libya, “the likely return of 2,000-2,500 Tunisian jihadists to their home country and violence between Tuareg and Toubou tribes in southern Libya”.
Algerian authorities were reported to be concerned that thousands of foreign militants, including up to 3,500 Islamic State (ISIS) fighters fleeing fighting in Iraq and Syria and “hundreds” of Boko Haram members from Nigeria, could be making their way to Libya.
Libyan authorities in Tripoli had seemed optimistic about driving ISIS from the country when local militias claimed to have uprooted the extremist group from its main stronghold of Sirte in December but a recent US attack indicates the terror group is still active.
On January 19th, the United States announced that at least 80 ISIS fighters were killed during air strikes on camps near Sirte. Some of those killed were believed to have been plotting attacks in Europe, the Pentagon said.
“The military deployed on the borders of Libya and Mali was bolstered by significant technical air capabilities, while the deployment of… forces on the border with Tunisia was part of a new strategy to better control the movement of people between the two countries,” said El Watan.
Asked about the El Watan report, a senior diplomat in the region told The Arab Weekly: “It is clear from how the article is organised that it contains leaks from the Defence Ministry but how much of it is aimed at the domestic front is the guess of many in Algiers. The threat from the borders is clear but reminding people here of that helps underpin stability inside the country ahead of elections in the coming few months.”