Algerian support for joint Arab military would be 'limited'

Algerian support for joint Arab military would be 'limited'
Analysis: Algiers has enough domestic problems without signing up to fight sectarian battles on foreign soil, say analysts.
3 min read
01 April, 2015
Algeria fought a civil war with Islamist militias throughout the 1990s [AFP]

Algeria won't join a unified pan-Arab military force, but will contribute limited logistical support, officials said at the recent Arab League summit.

The north African nation has extensive experience in counter-terrorism operations, having fought Islamist groups throughout the 1990s, but Algiers is adamant none of its soldiers will fight abroad.  

Algeria's army already has its hands full on the home front, with the country bordering some unstable neighbours - Libya, Mali and Niger.

It is also facing security risks along its 1,034km (640 mile) border with Tunisia. 

"Caution is the watchword for Algeria's positions and actions," said political analyst Hocine Bellaloufi.

This means that opening a new front against armed groups outside its own borders appears out of the question.

The rugged Chaambi Mountains form much of Tunisia's borderlands, and have become a safe haven for al-Qaeda fighters, and a passageway to Libya for budding militants.

Algiers' concerns over continued threats from armed groups, particularly after its decade-long civil war, account for its reluctant approach to the united Arab force.

"Algeria will not allow any participation of its armed troops in military operations outside its borders, but could, however, bring support in logistics beyond its borders without involving its army," said Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria's foreign minister.

Algeria prides itself on being the first Arab country to take a concerted stance against "terrorism", when it fought militants throughout the 1990s, and uses this argument when dealing with the world's major superpowers, particularly a terror-obsessed United States.

Algiers' isolationism will exempt it from military adventures with possible sectarian motives, said Bellaloufi. Violence across the region has taken on distinct Sunni-Shia, Arab-Iran overtones.

     Caution is the watchword for Algeria's positions and actions.
- Hocine Bellaloufi, analyst

"The fact that an Arab-led coalition launched an air offensive against Yemen objectively contributes to the imprecision and confusion surrounding the Arab Summit's initiative," Bellaloufi said.

The countries most supportive of an united Arab force are those leading the offensive on the Houthis - the Shia militia which has seized control of much of Yemen. This has done little to reassure Algiers about the ultimate objectives of such a unified command.

"Algeria, through its representative, called for the initiative to be submitted for an in-depth review, as it wasn't keen to join such a military force," Bellaloufi said.

Officials have been careful to use diplomatic language on the issue, so as to avoid isolating regional and international partners.

While Abdelkader Bensalah, Algeria's Arab League representative, promoted the "carrot-and-stick" approach, he was careful not to totally reject the idea of a pan-Arab fighting force.

"This transnational phenomenon is not limited to security, it also includes the re-launch of dialogue [talks] and national reconciliation, while suggesting global alternatives and strategies," he told the weekend's summit.

Bellaloufi said Bensalah was revealing Algeria's reluctance.

"This position highlights that there is an enormous disparity existing between Algeria and the countries of the coalition intervening in Yemen," the analyst said.

Algeria is committed to security in the Arab world, said Bellaloufi - but as always, its own safety trumps any new regional projects.