Why Algeria Acted Alone

It came as a real surprise to many. Since 9/11 US forces became the dictionary definition of counter terrorism globally. To see Algerian special forces take armed confrontation is rare in Arab region.

Pakistan and west friendly countries are pliant states. Anti terror activities are expected to be conducted through a joint understanding and agreement. Unilateral actions could not part of the greater deal. Although Pakistanis might be thinking how their administration agreed to drone attacks from their country.

That Algeria didn’t inform the U.S.—much less collaborate with it—before launching the raid should come as no surprise. Since 9/11, both the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to cultivate a relationship with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and security ministries. There have been occasional successes.

Algerian officers have trained with the U.S. military; U.S. intelligence agencies shared overhead imagery of Algeria’s vast border; and the two sides at times cooperated against a common enemy, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s North African affiliate.

But in general, distrust has been a hallmark of the strained relationship between the U.S. and Algeria.

Under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian military has never agreed to the large kinds of defense aid packages other North African allies like Morocco and Egypt accepted. Known as foreign military financing, these kinds of grants can theoretically give the U.S. leverage over—and insight into—foreign militaries. (Algeria’s primary weapons supplier is Moscow, a relationship that goes back to the Cold War, when the Russians trained Algeria’s intelligence service and military.)

Since 2008, the U.S. has spent money from the International Military Education and Training Program to bring Algerian military officers to the United States for advanced military education. These exchanges are meant to give U.S. military officers a personal relationship with the future leaders of foreign militaries.

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of staff for Pakistan’s military, for example, studied at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. When he was there, he got to know a young officer named David Petraeus, who would go on to lead the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Algerian government also participated in military exchanges with the U.S., yet it wasn’t entirely convinced that the U.S. could teach it military and police about how to fight terrorists, according to current and former U.S. officials who worked on the program. In the 1990s, the Algerian government led a brutal campaign against the Islamist insurgency that eventually morphed into AQIM.

Ali Tounsi, who was the director general of Algeria’s national police until he was murdered in 2010, said the U.S. “keeps extending invitations to visit Quantico or Paris Island, but they have nothing to offer that we don’t already know.” Porter added, “The view was Algeria had an extremely bloody counter-insurgency, and then after September 11, the United States launches its war on terror and comes parading all these goodies like counterterrorism cooperation.”

In the last six months, the Obama administration has intensified its diplomacy with Algeria in light of the deteriorating situation in Mali. Outgoing secretary of state Hillary Clinton has spearheaded an effort with the Algerian government to form a new strategic dialogue to broaden the relationship beyond counter-terrorism. But the emphasis has been on closing Algeria’s border with Mali and targeting the mix of ethnic rebels and jihadists who are threatening to turn Mali into the next major al Qaeda safe haven.

To some extent, these efforts have been successful. Algeria allowed France, its former colonial master, to use its airspace for the new military initiative in Mali. The Algerians also moved troops to the Mali border after initially resisting the recommendation, according to three current U.S. officials. But the wariness nonetheless remains.

What happened in Algeria was a blowback from what happened in Mali. French invasion and re-colonization triggered the AQIM members in Algeria to exact blood for what they see as Algerian government’s betrayal. Its much like OBL’s dissatisfaction with the Al Saud family’s loyalty to US.

These blowbacks did not start in the Algerian or Malian deserts. Not in the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Baghdad. Whenever a person is killed unjustly anywhere a member of global humanity must stand and speak against it. Newton’s third law of motion says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Invasion of Kuwait lead to Desert Storm. That was a blowback. Foreign military base in his country lead to OBL’s jihadist movement from Sudan and then Afghanistan. That was the second blowback. 9/11 attacks can be connected through a series of dots starting from one event and leading to another.

Blowbacks due to foreign military interventions is an extension of an ideological fight. Post colonialism independent countries were fuelled by the passion of nationalism and experimentation of government models. Dysfunctional governments of many countries in South Asia and Africa gave birth to movements of anarchy, destruction, hatred and militancy. Malian government relied on its former masters to administer itself resembling a patient released from hospital only to remain in coma at home. A truly independent Mali existed only on paper.

Malian state’s poor achievements in governance, security, education, healthcare and overall bad resource management lead to Tuareg rebels enlistment in Qaddafi’s army in Libya. With their paymaster now gone Tuaregs teamed up with other armed militants to seize power. For few months militants ruled over a territory equal to the size of France itself. In time they could have mustered enough power to change the rules of the game in regional strategy surrounding Mali. That would have had a blowback effect on the north African region.

Sovereign state concept is an important concept as much as the chess board is important to the game of chess itself. In the post world war II era republics must perform on the international chess board of strategy and control as designed by world powers. International strategy as per the new world order would not work if sovereign states and republics begin to evolve and transform into unified blocks and alliances. A new chess board would be required in that situation introducing new rules and new players..

Mali intervention is not over yet. First blowback from this invasion was the kidnapping and killing of 32 people. Blowbacks don’t die easily. Therein hangs the danger of something horrible waiting to happen. Series of previously unimagined events should unfold before us in next few weeks. In those events we must hope another destructive ideology will not be born.

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