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WikiLeaks cables reveal US-Algeria partnership for battling Al Qaeda

The US is increasingly concerned about North Africa's Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). WikiLeaks cables indicate it is strengthening ties with Algeria to better combat AQIM's rise.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / December 13, 2010

Residents from the Berber region protest against extortion tactics employed by al Qaeda's north African wing in November 2010. About 2,500 people demonstrated in a remote part of Algeria on Monday to demand that security forces do more to protect them from al Qaeda-linked militants who use the area as a stronghold.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

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Views on what Wikileaks does run the gamut from admiration to condemnation, but I share the view (articulated here) that the most important question concerning Wikileaks is not whether its staff has acted morally, but rather what impact regular leaks will have on journalism and government, now that it seems likely that regular leaks will become a fixture of the future media landscape. Put differently, some readers might object to Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables related to, for example, US counterterrorism policy in the Sahel. But now that those materials are circulating, I feel that I should analyze them in order to give readers a sense of how the conversation about the US and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) might evolve. Briefly, leaked cables relating to the Sahel suggest a strong US-Algerian partnership and a weaker role for Mali.

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CNN has its own analysis, which stresses themes like increasing US concern over AQIM (including its potential involvement in regional drug trafficking), US approval of regional coordination, but continued mistrust among Sahelian governments. Here are some excerpts:

[The fight against AQIM] is a struggle that the United States is taking ever more seriously, according to U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks…The United States has stepped up its military cooperation with governments in the region.

[...]

In the cables, officials from Algeria and Mali talk of a growing threat from al Qaeda in the region. One cable from the U.S. ambassador in Mali discusses the visit by the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. William E. Ward, last November. President Amadou Toumani Toure told him that while al Qaeda “had difficulty getting their message across to a generally reluctant population, they have had some success in enlisting disaffected youth to their ranks.”

According to the cable, Toure complained: “Military cooperation with Algeria is the problem. … It is not just a matter of destroying a couple of (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) bases, we have to be able to hold the territory. The longer the situation drags on, the stronger the Salafists [al Qaeda] will get.”

The Algerians tended to blame Mali. “The nexus of arms, drug and contraband smuggling in northern Mali created an enabling environment,” according to senior Algerian defense official Abdelmalik Guenaizia, who added that “terrorists will use any means available to finance their activities, including corruption and hostage-taking.”

[...]U.S. efforts to improve coordination in the Sahel region against terrorism do appear to be bearing fruit. Another diplomatic cable from 2009 welcomes the establishment of a regional command for counterterrorism operations.

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