US general backs Algeria counter-terror efforts
By Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 02/06/11
The commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) concluded a two-day visit to Algeria on Wednesday (June 1st), as part of efforts to boost co-operation on counter-terrorism and regional security.
On his first visit to Algeria, General Carter F. Ham addressed a range of issues, from the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Libya, to the terror threat emanating from the Sahel. The American official emphasised his country's willingness to support the joint efforts led by Algeria aimed at countering al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
At a press conference held Wednesday at the US Embassy in Algiers, the commander said his discussions with Algerian officials focused on the situation in Libya and the risk that arms circulating in Libya could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda. These concerns necessitate co-operation by all countries within the region, he said.
"A safe, stable and secure Africa is in everyone's best interests, including the United States," General Ham said.
The US general also spoke of the close co-operation between the Algerian and American armies and praised the role played by Algeria in fighting terrorism. The visiting general met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Defence Minister Abdelmalek Guenaizia, Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel, and presidential advisor Kamal Rezzag Bara.
"We've talked a lot about how together we can address, particularly, the threat of extremism in the region," the US official continued. "And we remember every day that there are brave Algerians engaged in a difficult struggle against violent extremists."
He also said that NATO strikes in Libya have achieved favourable results, seriously diminishing Moamer Kadhafi's military. The general underlined that several Libyan officers have deserted. AFRICOM is already planning for the post-Kadhafi era and considering the steps to be taken once the conflict has been resolved, he pointed out.
The US commander also refuted accusations that Algeria has sent mercenaries to Libya.
"I will be as a clear as I can possibly be: I have seen absolutely no reporting that indicates that Algeria is supporting movement of fighters to Libya. To the contrary, Algeria has been supportive, and strongly so, of regional security and very strong in countering terrorism and the illegal flow of fighters. But like weapons, there are indeed fighters moving back in forth in open spaces, across the region, to and from Libya," General Ham said. The weapon movements, he emphasised, require a regional approach to security concerns.
Addressing ways to resolve the Libya conflict, the US official said: "There is a consensus about how the situation in Libya will end: Libya must remain intact as a country and it's up to the people to choose their government."
"The American position is clear: Kadhafi must leave," the general said.
At the same time, Algerian Maghreb Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel was holding a press conference in which he stated the four Sahel states involved in the fight against AQIM will meet at the beginning of September in Algiers to discuss security in the region, in the presence of their partners from outside Africa.
With regard to the Libya conflict, Messahel said that Algeria was in contact with all Libyan parties as part of efforts to find a peaceful solution by proposing "a seven-point plan to bring an end to the crisis".
"Algeria and other countries in the region know that AQIM has sophisticated weapons. Libya has become an open-air warehouse. The upsurge in attacks in our country is no coincidence. Munitions and weapons are coming in," Messahel said.
The minister also reiterated that Algeria was not supplying weapons to Libya. "We are complying with international law to the letter. There is an embargo and we are complying with it, and our partners know that," he asserted. "Like others, we have received requests from our Libyan brothers, but we are only supplying medicines and food."
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