The Algerian military stationed on the Libyan and Mali borders has been put on high alert to counter infiltration through Libya and Mali. The forces have been reinforced and air patrols intensified. The action was taken in response to increasingly deteriorating situation in Libya. Thousands of foreign militants, including up to 3,500 Islamic State (IS) fighters fleeing fighting in Iraq and Syria and hundreds of Boko Haram members from Nigeria, could be making their way to Libya –– a country awash with weapons and harboring many militant groups. And it shares a common border of 700 km with Algeria.
On January 19, two US Air Force B-2 stealth bombers struck Islamic State (IS) camps southwest of the Libyan city of Sirte, less than a month after the US Defense Department declared an end to an extended air campaign there. MQ-9 armed drones also participated in the strikes, using Hellfire missiles to hit targets that remained after the initial bombardment. The US military said some of the terrorists killed were believed to have been plotting attacks in Europe.
Many IS formations remain in Libya’s desert interior, taking advantage of the country’s chaotic civil war, and are likely to target nearby oil fields.
As IS forces are losing ground retreating in Iraq, Syria, Libya and other places, Algeria may come under attack. In October, 2016, IS announced the start of operations in Algeria and other countries of Maghreb. Infiltration of extremist groups may undermine stability. Jund al-Khalifa, an IS branch, is already operating in the country.
Algeria has recently applied a lot of effort to achieve a breakthrough in Libya's political stalemate. Many Libyan delegations representing various Libyan individuals and groups have visited Algeria for consultations.
With a population of 92 million, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa and the Arab world, the third-most populous in Africa and the fifteenth-most populous on the planet Earth. It is fighting IS militants in the Sinai Peninsula. Cairo is involved in Libya throwing its support behind General Haftar, an anti-Islamist leader who represents the internationally backed government – the Council of Deputies. Just like Algeria, it also faces the potential threats coming for Libya to make the two nations potential allies.
Algeria can align with Egypt in a mediation effort. Algiers has clout with the groups based in Tripoli and Cairo can influence the groups it supports in the east of Libya. Supported by pertinent actors and international community, such an effort is likely to achieve the desired result – something no one has done before. But the role of Algeria will be crucial because, unlike Egypt or the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, it has never taken sides in the Libya’s conflict to make it an honest broker which commands the respect of all.
On his visit to Algeria on 7 January 2017, UN special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, emphasized the «key role of neigbouring countries, especially Algeria, in the search for a solution to the crisis in that country». According to him, 2017 «should be the year of decisions to reach a solution to the crisis that has been shaking Libya for many years». Nobody can carry out the mission better than Algeria. This country will be the main beneficiary if the Libya’s conflict is settled.
Algeria has a rich experience of fighting terrorists. It had its own war in the period of 1991-2002. With a 1,200 km coastline and a population of 40 million, Algeria is a privileged partner of the European Union. It’s scary even to think about refugee flows from this country hitting Europe. Besides, Algeria is a key supplier of oil and gas to the Old Continent. An internal conflict there will have grave consequences globally.
Algiers cooperates with Moscow in the field of security to prevent the terrorist threat. It has recently purchased 40 Mi-28 «Night Hunter« attack helicopters from Russia. In 2015, Moscow and Algiers signed a contract for the delivery of 14 Su-30MKA fighters to Algeria. The contract is to be fulfilled this year. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Algeria in February, 2016, to state that «Russia and Algeria both believe it is necessary to restore Libya's statehood through a truly national dialogue».
Moscow enjoys the relationship of friendship and strategic cooperation with Algiers and Cairo. It can use its growing weight in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to support a peaceful initiative. MENA will radically change if the Astana process and a Russia-supported Algeria-Egypt peaceful initiative make gains.
The experience of the recent past and the imminent terrorist threat make Algiers understand well the security concerns of other countries, like Syria, for instance.
Algeria has supported Syrian sovereignty since the outbreak of violence there in 2011. It has opposed moves by the Arab League to expel Syria, one of its founding members, from the pan-Arab organization.
The minister of Maghreb Affairs, African Union and the Arab League Abdelkader Messahel visited Syria in April. Messahel's mission to Damascus follows Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem's visit to Algeria in late March. Recently Algeria has supported the Astana process.
Algeria has systematically abstained in Arab League votes slapping sanctions on Syria. It also enjoys good relations with most Arab League nations and has consistently played a moderator role during periods of crisis in the region – whether among Arab nations or with other Middle Eastern countries. More recently, Algeria refused to get embroiled in the current war waged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen, preferring instead to apply mediation efforts behind-the-scenes to manage the crisis.
As an essentially Sunni Muslim nation, Algeria cannot be accused of standing by Damascus over Alawite or Shia solidarity (an accusation often leveled at Iran).
Algeria mediated secret talks between Syria and Turkey ahead of the announcement made last July by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that Ankara wanted to re-establish good relations with Syria. The statement was a departure from Turkish policy, which has over the past five years insisted on the removal of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
It’s worth recalling that it was Algiers that negotiated the release of US hostages held in Tehran after the revolution in 1979. Once, it has already done what nobody else could.
Algeria, a major player in the fight against terrorism in MENA, is a bulwark against militant groups spreading in Tunisia, Libya and Mali and other countries of the region. If the Astana process to reach solution to the Syria’s puzzle makes progress and peaceful initiatives to end the Libya’s crisis are launched, Algeria should play a key role and join main actors in the effort. It has immense diplomatic potential and unique advantages to make it stand out as a valuable actor and a perfect intermediary able to greatly contribute to peaceful settlements of the regional conflicts.