News / Africa

Algeria's Stance on Northern Mali Remains Ambiguous

Peter Tinti
Algeria is a key military power in the Sahel region and could play a decisive role in the outcome of the crisis in Mali, where al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants control the northern half of the country. Questions remain as to what exactly is Algeria's position in this crisis.

Mali has officially requested military assistance from West African regional bloc ECOWAS to help retake the country’s north, which fell to heavily-armed militant groups in April, shortly after a March 22 military coup in the capital, Bamako.

As ECOWAS defense chiefs work to finalize plans for regional intervention, other actors continue to call for a negotiated solution to the crisis.  
 
Among those calling for talks is Algeria, Mali's neighbor to the north.
 
West Africa Director for the International Crisis Group Gilles Yabi says Algeria is hesitant to endorse fighting on its southern border for fear that it could destabilize its own territory.

Yabi says Algeria should clarify how serious a threat it believes armed groups in northern Mali pose to regional security. He says ECOWAS intervention at this time is unlikely to yield a durable solution, as armed groups might resort to reprisals and localized violence.
 
Algeria has been fighting al-Qaida's North Africa franchise, AQIM, for more than a decade. The movement, now active in northern Mali, is rooted in an Algerian Salafist movement called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a legacy of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s.
 
During previous periods of instability in northern Mali, Algeria helped negotiate peace agreements between the government in Bamako and armed rebel movements.
 
During the past decade, Algeria has sought to lead attempts at regional cooperation against criminal and terrorist activity in the region, in part, analysts say, to minimize Western military influence in the Sahel. These efforts included the creation of a four-country joint military command center in the Algerian city of Tamanrassat.

Africa analyst Alexis Arieff authored a recent report examining Algerian policy toward the Malian crisis for the Washington-based Congressional Research Service.
 
"Algeria has positioned itself as a regional leader in counter-terrorism," said Arieff. "It has attempted to marshal a collective regional response to cross-cutting security issues in the Sahel region. The states bordering Algeria's south, these are poorer, less militarily equipped, less militarily capable states that are nonetheless effected by terrorism and violent extremism. So Algeria has tried to convince the West and the Sahel region that a collective regional response is needed."
 
Algeria has kept a low profile with regards to the current situation in northern Mali.  Aside from rejecting the idea of the creation of a new state in the occupied territory, Algeria has been unclear about what it views as an acceptable outcome.  

Analysts told VOA Algeria's ambiguity should not be confused with inactivity or disinterest.  

Its capital, Algiers, has hosted diplomatic envoys from nearly all key players, including Mali's transitional government, France and a delegation from Ansar Dine, one of three militant Islamist groups in control of northern Mali.  

Another group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, emerged from AQIM last year.  Though the group says it wants to spread jihad south of the Sahara, it has focused its attacks on Algeria. These attacks included the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats from a consulate in northern Mali in April.

The militants claim to have executed one of the diplomats in early September after Algeria refused a prisoner exchange, a decision that sparked a domestic debate concerning Algerian policy toward Mali.

Analyst Arieff says it is difficult to pin down what exactly that policy is, in part due to Algeria's opaque internal decision-making processes.

"There are a lot of different players," says Arieff. "A lot of decisions are made through a process that does not involve public discussion. There are, especially in the security realm, sometimes divergent interests among these different players, which might include at any given time, the Presidency, the military, the military intelligence apparatus, different ministries, and then of course the Algerian public, the Algerian legislature, local government entities ... and so it is not surprising that given that opacity and that complexity that Algeria's position towards Mali has at times seemed difficult to decipher."
 
ECOWAS has taken the lead, on behalf of the international community, in dealing with both Mali's post-coup political crisis and the militant occupation of the north, but its mediation has been controversial and some analysts question whether ECOWAS is the right organization for the task.
 
“ECOWAS is an imperfect framework because it does not include Algeria and Mauritania, the two most influential states in northern Mali," says Wolfram Lacher, a researcher focusing on security issues in the Sahel and the Sahara at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "And in fact, both Algeria and Mauritania have been opposed to the ECOWAS approach to the conflict in northern Mali, particularly the plans for military intervention, but also the mediating role of Burkinabe president Blaise Campaore.”

ECOWAS defense chiefs wrapped up a two-day summit on Mali on September 16 and said they would be “soliciting the support” of non-member states Algeria and Mauritania to “help facilitate the deployment of the ECOWAS Mission in Mali.”

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid