Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Algeria’s military action against those who had taken over the British Petroleum (BP) facility at In Amenas has been much discussed recently. These conversations have centered around the fact that, while 700 Algerian and 100 foreign workers had managed to escape the initial attack, the three-day Algerian response killed most of the remaining hostages and almost all of the militants.
On a positive note, the military operation did prevent the militants from blowing up the plant that produces about 10 percent of Algeria’s gas exports. Indeed, the damage was so minor that the country’s oil minister reported the plant would resume functions soon after.
Regardless of the outcome, this attack raises a whole host of questions. Firstly, what was the motivation behind this act? While the militants said this operation was in response to French support for the Malian government, it’s difficult to believe that such an operation could have been prepared and conducted on such a short time frame. Rather, it’s more likely that the attack was going to happen anyway and the developments in Mali are being used as an excuse.
Secondly, why did the operation turn violent? The military says they attacked the militants because the fighters were trying to escape with their prisoners – something confirmed by witnesses. However, did this warrant such a violent response?
To answer this question, let’s assume that this militant attack was peripherally linked to events in Mali but more directly connected to the jihadi movement which includes elements who had previously been involved in Algeria – Moktar Belmoktar who claimed responsibility for this attack – and events in Libya and then Mali.
As support for my assumption consider that the militants who attacked the BP facility included individuals from Algeria, Canada, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Tunisia. This is actually a more dangerous development because it portends similar actions in other countries that, while already unstable, have not been dealing with such kind of militancy.
Let’s also consider Algeria’s history of fighting Islamist insurgents since the 1990s. Given this past, the reasons behind its earlier victory against the insurgents – which underpins the country’s no-negotiation policy with the militants – and the belief that this action was a provocation against the government, Algiers’ strong response makes perfect sense. Especially, because it sends two clear messages: a. This kind of operation will not be tolerated, no matter the cost or reaction from the west, and b. Militants should fight their battles elsewhere.
Regardless of the human cost, this operation was a clear and significant win for Algiers and the Algerian military. One doesn’t hear complaints about it from Algerians while those from the international community won’t find any takers within the country’s borders. Indeed, the growing violence in North Africa may make this kind of a response par for the course.