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

Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs