Signs of military cooperation between Algeria and the US

It seems that regional developments and jihadist groups’ ability to retain a margin of manoeuvre in the Sahara and Sahel have pushed Washington to renew military and security relations with Algeria, which has significant experience in the war on terror.
Friday 25/09/2020
A file picture shows Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in In Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital. (AFP)
A file picture shows Algerian soldier standing guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex, in In Amenas, about 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital. (AFP)

ALGIERS – Algeria and the United States are continuing to consult on regional security and military cooperation despite their conflicting interests on a number of issues related to the war on terror and their respective roles in the region. New developments in Mali and Libya have renewed the US’s aspirations to gain a foothold in the region through the Algeria Gate.

Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) General Stephen Townsend recently met with senior Algerian officials, including President Abdelmajid Tebboune, Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Army Chief of Staff, General Said Chengriha and a number of high-ranking officers.

While little information has leaked about the content of the talks, it is expected that on the top of the agenda were the two countries’ security and military relations, the situation in Mali and Libya and opportunities for their two armies to cooperate in the future, as Algiers’ new draft constitution, which is to be put to a popular referendum in November, lifts a longstanding ban on foreign deployment.

It seems that regional developments and jihadist groups’ ability to retain a margin of manoeuvre in the Sahara and Sahel have pushed Washington to renew military and security relations with Algeria, which has significant experience in the war on terror. Insecurity in Algeria’s southern and south-eastern strip offers fertile ground for jihadist groups and enables them to move and target US interests and countries of the region.

It is not unlikely that Washington hopes for Algeria to allow it to establish AFRICOM’s headquarters on its territory. Washington is hopeful because of political developments that have led to new leadership in Algeria and a review of the role of its army, which former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika long resisted, despite extensive cooperation at the time between the two countries in the military and intelligence fields.

A clause in Algeria’s new draft constitution stipulates that the Algerian army can participate in peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League, as well as potentially conduct bilateral military agreements with countries with common interests. This may be why the AFRICOM commander is meeting with Algerian officials — to try and forge an agreement between the two armies.

In a statement issued by the US Embassy in Algeria, Townsend said: “We have a lot to learn and share with each other, and strengthening this relationship is very important to us.”

“Algeria is a committed counterterrorism partner. Degrading violent extremist organizations, malign
activity, and enhancing regional stability is a mutual must,” he added.

The Algerian presidency issued a brief statement noting that “President Tebboune received General Townsend, commander of the US AFRICOM, and he was accompanied by members of the US embassy in Algeria.” It did not give details on the discussions that took place between the two parties.

The AFRICOM commander also met with Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum and Army Chief of Staff, General Said Chengriha. Boukadoum likely briefed his guest on his country’s stances on recent developments in Libya and Mali.

Boukadoum has visited Mali twice since the military overthrew President Ibrahim Keita, and also paid a trip to Niger. In Mali, he relayed his country’s frustration with the growing role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in marginalising neighbouring countries, especially Algeria. He urged all parties to respect a peace agreement concluded in Algeria in 2015 between belligerents in the Mali conflict.

In a statement in front of the American delegation, Chengriha expressed that his country “hopes that the meeting will be fruitful and carry new horizons, as Algeria and the United States possess great potentials to enhance their partnership through various mechanisms based on transparency, openness and common interests.”

Analysts say the meeting may have also focused on arrangements the United States and Algeria must make to help resolve internal conflict in Libya, especially after Tebboune recently confirmed his country’s commitment to playing a central role in mediating the crisis.