Sahel-Sahara military leaders discuss joint security efforts
By Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 15/04/10
The military chiefs of seven Sahel-Sahara region countries who met in Algiers this week have agreed on a common strategy to fight terrorism, according to the head of Algeria's National Popular Army.
General Ahmed Gaïd Salah announced the development in the wake of the Tuesday (April 13th) meeting, even as Algerian soldiers began a widespread counter-terrorism offensive.
The meeting of the chiefs of staff of Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania took place behind closed doors. On the same day, the Algerian army began sweeping regions reputed to be strongholds of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Salah told meeting participants that "strategic challenges" lay ahead, given the goal of "co-ordinating our fight" to "allow our respective political authorities to devote themselves to the task of economic and social development for the benefit of our peoples".
Participants will trade "analyses and information about the security situation and developments in the fight against terrorism in each country, and how it will play out in the regional setting", according to an Algerian Defence Ministry statement released to coincide with the event.
"The meeting will allow the different parties to identify ways and means likely to lead to a collective strategy of shared responsibility in the fight against terrorism and transnational crime," added the statement.
"Algeria is honoured to welcome this forum, where we can discuss defence and collective security issues and dispel any possible misunderstandings … so that we can set out and implement a joint strategy",
Salah said in an opening address to his regional counterparts. Salah said he was "convinced" that countries in the Sahel-Sahara region are capable of taking "full responsibility" for this "legitimate ambition", provided that they "can spot the security problems" and "identify the ways and means of resolving them by ... establishing an appropriate model for military co-operation".
The meeting came a week after a similar gathering of heads of intelligence and a month after the Sahel-Saharan ministerial conference in Algiers. Both previous conferences focussed on building a joint strategy in the fight against AQIM.
Among the specifics discussed by the military officials, Salah said, were the creation of a security information co-ordination centre in Tamanrasset and joint monitoring of borders to crack down on terrorists, smugglers and drug traffickers.
The backdrop for the Algiers meeting was the Algerian army's biggest anti-terror offensive in years. The Algerian daily Liberté reported on Tuesday that thousands of ANP troops and security forces had launched the operation to target at least 300 terrorists in Jijel, Skikda, Batna, Bejaia, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Setif, Constantine, M'sila, Medea, Djelfa, Tipasa, Tlemcen, Sidi Bel-Abbes, Ain Defla, Bouira, Boumerdes, Tizi-Ouzou, Blida, Biskra, Saida, Relizane and Tebessa.
Liberté called the "Ennasr" (Victory) offensive Algeria's largest anti-terror military operation since the 2005 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.
On Tuesday, local sources in the wilayas of Bouira and Bordj Bou Arreridj told Magharebia that the offensive had "neutralised" around a dozen terrorists. They also said that a key AQIM leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, appeared to be among the terrorists hemmed in by the soldiers.
A number of other terrorist groups are also believed to have been cornered, according to the sources, and significant military reinforcements have been deployed in all parts of Algeria's eastern, western and central regions.
According to Liberté, security forces have gathered important intelligence regarding terrorist movements. The operation being carried out between Bouira and Bordj Bou Arreridj was made possible by intelligence gleaned from a recently-disbanded terrorist support network.
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