In Africa's Sahel region, concerns deepen over Libya, Al Qaeda
At a gathering of regional military planners on Friday, analysts discussed how security conditions have deteriorated since the beginning of the Libyan conflict, and how Al Qaeda's affiliate has used the conflict to accumulate arms.
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The latest meeting reflected growing concerns about AQIM in the context of the Libyan civil war. Algeria and its southern neighbors are worried that Libya’s crisis is offering an opportunity to AQIM:
Speaking after a meeting Friday between the four army heads, a Malian officer who attended said: “The situation in Libya is of great concern. There is a risk of destabilising the entire region.”
The meeting was to reinforce the fight against insecurity in a region threatened by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“Moreover, because of the Libyan crisis, the security situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, so it is necessary to be careful. We are all on alert and we keep each other informed,” he added.
According to a document from one of the participating countries, seen by AFP, “there is now no doubt, several Al-Qaeda fighters are involved in the Libya fighting.”
Sahelian governments’ attention to Libya is not new:
In late March, Mali and Niger security sources said AQIM had taken advantage of the Libyan conflict to accumulate heavy weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles, described as “a real danger for the whole area.”
In April, Algerian officials also warned about an AQIM presence in Libya:
Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister said he was worried “particularly through the increasingly noticeable presence of AQIM (al Qaeda’s north African wing) in Libya and the increasingly noticeable circulation of weapons which can be exploited by terrorist groups”.
Friday’s meeting indicates that Sahelian and Algerian fears about Libya and AQIM are growing. In another sign of this concern, “Algeria’s foreign minister will visit Washington from Monday to discuss the continuing unrest across North Africa, in particular the conflict in Libya.” This trip continues ongoing exchanges between American and Algerian personnel who are seeking to enhance cooperation around, among other issues, AQIM. With Algeria playing the leading role in counterterrorism cooperation with its Sahelian neighbors, US-Algerian discussions are bound to affect counterterrorism efforts in the Sahara more broadly.
Time will tell how the Libyan civil war has affected AQIM’s fortunes, but clearly the governments of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger are taking the matter very seriously. Expect more discussions and actions on this issue.
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