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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.

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As contacts on Twitter pointed out, the leaked cables are just one more piece in a jumbled puzzle. Tommy Miles wrote, “This would be the proper moment to stress these cables are what US & Alg gov SAY not necessarily what’s happening.” Andrew Lebovich added, “also, what Alg and Mal officials SAY about each others’ levels of cooperation against AQIM.” Arguably the cables reveal more about attitudes than actions.

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The Guardian has posted the text of cables related to counterterrorism in the Sahel, and readers may find them of interest. In chronological order:

  • One from December 2007 (following the Dec. 11 Algiers bombings) stresses the adaptability of AQIM, the influence of Iraqi insurgencies on the group, the inability of Algerian security forces to completely stop terrorism, and the author’s expectation that the security situation would either “stay roughly as it is now or deteriorate.”
  • One from December 2009 discusses a US request to the Algerian government to conduct surveillance flights over Algeria, Mauritania, and Mali.
  • One from January 2010 reports Algerian officials’ outrage over their country’s placement on an enhanced screening list at the US Transportation Security Administration, outrage specifically framed with reference to US-Algerian cooperation on couterterrorism. Algeria’s “Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci January 11 summoned the Ambassador and forcefully objected…He termed the decision intolerable, inappropriate, and inopportune. It reflected neither the reality of Algeria’s security situation, its counterterrorism efforts nor our close bilateral cooperation.”

The Guardian has analyzed what these documents say about the evolution of US-Algerian relations from 2007 to the present, with Algeria’s role in American eyes going from “security joke to US ally.” Algeria has come to be the most important US partner in the regional counterterrorism effort.

The content of cables relating to Algeria and the Sahel will not necessarily surprise readers, but the cables do bring out the relationships in the region, especially the closeness of US-Algerian cooperation and the tensions between Algeria and Mali. Given existing tensions between Mauritania and Mali, that could mean that Mali is somewhat marginalized by its neighbors and even by the US. Now that a great deal of AQIM’s high-profile kidnappings and clashes with authorities take place in Mali, disagreements between Algeria and Mali could prove problematic for tightening regional cooperation and advancing the counterterrorism effort.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University who blogs at Sahel Blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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