U.S. flying Drones over Algeria

Another revealation from Wiki-leaks is that the U.S. is flying drones over Algeria with the backing of the government.

Algeria agreed in January to allow the United States to fly spy planes over its territory to hunt for Al-Qaeda bases in the Sahara, according to a leaked diplomatic cable published Dec. 7.  The French daily Le Monde uncovered the secret note in the trove of secret U.S. State Department correspondence released by the WikiLeaks website.

“No partner is more important than Algeria in the fight against Al-Qaeda,” the U.S. embassy in Algiers said, according to Le Monde’s French translation of the memo. “Algeria wants to be strategic partner, not a rival.”

Lockheed Martin EP-3 spy plane

The memo said that the planes would usually operate from the U.S. naval airbase in Rota, in southern Spain.

A previous memo, dated December 30 last year and published on WikiLeaks’ website, described the negotiations between U.S. officials and senior Algerian foreign ministry official Sabri Boukadoum that led to the deal.

The planes, Lockheed Martin EP-3 spy planes operated by the U.S. Navy, intercept radio and other electronic communications and will be tasked to overfly Algeria to patrol the skies over Mali and Mauritania, it said.

Al-Qaeda’s north African subsidiary – Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – has bases in the Mauritanian desert and regularly carries out kidnappings of Western civilians. It is holding five French and two African hostages.

The December memo said the United States has asked other governments in the region permission to make the flights and was awaiting their response.

On Dec. 7, a senior U.S. military leader in the region praised Algeria for leading the fight against Islamic militants in the Sahel region of northern Africa and said progress was being made.

“This is a regional issue where Algerian land forces have taken the leadership role and it is very impressive the progress that has been made,” said Major General David Hogg, the commander of U.S. Army Africa.

Algeria has led a high-profile military and political push also involving Mauritania, Mali and Niger against militants. The four countries have a joint command centre in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset

Being constant observers of the security threat spectrum in Africa, based on news reports, it was known that the Obama administration had significantly expanded the deployment of U.S. military Special Operations forces around the world against al Qaeda and other groups, Africa included.  This past summer, the Washington Post reported about this.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.

The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the other side of the national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values President Obama released last week.

One advantage of using “secret” forces for such missions is that they rarely discuss their operations in public. For a Democratic president such as Obama, who is criticized from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral U.S. raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen, provide politically useful tools.

Obama, one senior military official said, has allowed “things that the previous administration did not.”.

Algeria has made the decision to become a strategic partner with the U.S., which in the long run has benefits not just from a security perspective with defensive technology exchanges but also added economic benefit with  increased American investments in the country.  This partnership is rational given that both countries share the same security concerns of terrorism.

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