The Sahel Region; The Future Ground Zero

If the recent flurry of activities by the Moroccan Military on the border regions where Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania meet is any indication, the Sahel region is the future ground zero for the fight against extremists groups operating in North Africa. Despite the ongoing war of words between Morocco and Algeria over the issue of the Western Sahara, Algiers and Rabat are warily looking at the recent activities of several different groups operating a number of illicit activities on the tri-borders. Even though some of this activities are typical of any border region in the world, the presence of armed groups linked to outside international militancy groups that are known of embracing violence is intensifying the pressure on the Moroccan and Algerian governments to forgo their differences and increase their security cooperation; it is going to be a matter of survival for both countries.


The latest bloody attack on a Mauritanian military post not far from the Algerian borders by the Algerian based and Al Qaeda-linked Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) is a preview of what is to come if the countries of the Sahel region do not cooperate on matters of intelligence and security. Weak governments, poverty and political instability is fertile land for recruiting and training youth from the region and beyond to join armed groups intended on destabilizing the region in order to achieve their goal of imposing their brand of Islam in North Africa and the Sahel.
Geography and landscape has been the GSPC best ally. Perilous borders and weak military and security establishments in Mali, Niger and Mauritania have given bandits, smugglers and violent armed groups the freedom  to move goods, militants and arms throughout the region all the way to the Moroccan-Algerian borders were the next stage of attacks are likely to happen. Since the ceasefire went into effect between Morocco and the Algeria backed Polisario seperarists, the no man land in the vast Sahara between Algeria and Morocco and toward the Mauritanian borders turned into a heaven for several armed groups who set up training camps readying their members for violent attacks on security forces in any or all of the countries in the region.
The migration of the GSPC from the Algerian Sahara to Eastern Mauritania and recent attacks on Mauritanian security forces is a dooming indication that the group and its allies may be vying to destabilize Mauritanian since it is the weakest in the region. The recent military coup in Nouakchott added to the political and social instability of the country. It is evident that Mauritania's army can not secure its vast open borders especially with Algeria.
According to several news accounts in the Moroccan press, King Mohamed IV has ordered the Moroccan armed forces to double its efforts to control the smuggling routs in the Moroccan Sahara  and put an end to the outlawed activities on the Mauritanian borders. In fact, it has been reported that General Bennani, the Inspector General of the Moroccan Armed Force, has been personally surveying the operations in the region.  While Mauritania and Algeria have swap of lands outside the control of its security forces, Morocco has a better handle on it side of the borders.
Sensing the danger settling on their door steps, the Moroccan authorities have set up several intelligence cells around the borders with Mauritania. Also, the Division of Inquiries and Documentation (DGED), Morocco's intelligence agency, in the person of his new Director Yassine Mansouri has been active in helping their Mauritanian counterparts in tracking and analyzing intelligence on the activities of armed groups active in the Mauritanian Sahara. Putting political considerations aside, the Moroccan authorities' dealings with the new military junta in Nouakchott is the key to keeping the border regions safe for Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco.
Judging from the results and the number of foiled potential violent attacks in Spain and Morocco, the close relationship between CNI (Spanish intelligence) and the DGED should be an example to follow for a future intelligence mechanism to fight armed groups in the Sahel before a major attack takes place.  Looking at patterns of past attacks, the GSPC has been going after easy targets, but this MO does not mean that the group will not go for a bigger more spectacular strike. Improving and increasing the sharing of intelligence between countries in the region is the best and only way to stop the activities of armed groups in the Sahel.
It is time for Algeria and Morocco to put their difference aside to tackle the insecurity in the Sahel .  On several occasions, the Moroccan government has shown its wiliness to overlook the Anti-Moroccan positions of Algiers.  Rabat has been a proponent for increased security collaboration between all parties involved for the sake of protecting civilians from possible attacks. Now, it is time for the Algerian military to make an honest effort to promote intelligence cooperation between countries of the region in the name of security and stability for all.  After all, The GSPC is aiming to the destabilization of governments in the region without discrimination on the basis of nationalities.


0 #1 COMMENT_TITLE_R E The Sahel Region; The Future Ground Zero Hmimarmad 2009-02-13 08:47
Unfortunately Algeria does not see it that way. They see that the source of threat is Morocco, they see Morocco as the prime financier of their terrorists and they see that the source of their drug problem is morocco. Not long ago, after Morocco asked the Algerian to open the borders, Algeria responded by erecting several control posts along the Moroccan borders. We are about to deal with Bouteflika for another decade so brace yourselves folks. There is no way that the Moroccan-Algeri an conflict can be solved because:
No matter what happens, Algeria will always see itself being the looser because Morocco is already in the Sahara. The only way that can comfort their views is if they can get piece of the Moroccan Sahara and that's never going to happen.
Morocco will need figure out a way to move forward without Bouteflika's buddies.

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