The Algeria – France crisis and its impact on operations in the Sahel

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Tuesday, 5 October 2021 19:56

Paratroopers from the 8th RPIMA in Castres on 17 January 2019. © Frédéric Scheiber / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP

The quarrel between Algiers and Paris is expected to have a significant impact on the French army's anti-terrorism activities in the Sahel-Saharan strip.

Saïd Chengriha, Algeria’s chief of staff, is said to be leading the counterattack against Paris. The general has had many grievances against France for several months. However, the French authorities’ reaction to the Pegasus affair, which was considered too timid and perceived as a desire to stifle the scandal to please Morocco, has not gone down too well.

Algerian authorities find it all the more difficult to understand this leniency because, from their point of view, the Pegasus affair is almost a justification for war with Morocco.

Supply of troops

On 28 September, Gabriel Attal, France’s government spokesperson, announced that the country would be reducing the number of visas it grants to Algerians. This was then followed by President Emmanual Macron’s comments on the Algerian “politico-military system”.

This further fuelled the ire of Chengriha, who ordered the road to be blocked to French military aircraft, thereby cancelling the agreement that Bouteflika had introduced at the beginning of French operations in Mali in 2012, which allowed them to fly over Algerian territory.

The French army was not even notified of the ban beforehand; it was only once they had taken off that the airforce pilots discovered the situation. At least four planes had to turn back on 2 October, the day the ban came into force.

The just-in-time supply of troops to the Barkhane and Takuba forces will be delayed because of forced diversions through Morocco and Mauritania. The transport aircraft will have to store more fuel under their wings and thus will have less space for passengers and equipment.

According to several sources, Algeria has also stopped its military aid on the ground. Convoys of fuel and water have not crossed the border ever since the decision was made to close the airspace to French military aircraft. Over the past eight years, Algeria has supplied more than a quarter of the French army’s fuel and diesel needs in northern Mali.

The Wagner case

In Algiers, a security source told us that this crisis will probably have an impact on anti-terrorism cooperation, as it will result in less information being exchanged, even though the communication channels remain open. This is especially since the operations of the two embassies have not necessarily been affected by the recall – officially ‘for consultations’ – of the Algerian ambassador to Paris.

Therefore, no diplomats will be expelled or staff size reduced. “If necessary, the services will talk to each other,” says our security source.

Algeria does not view a weakened Barkhane in a positive light, as it feels that the French operation helps maintain stability in Mali. All the more so since, despite the good relations between Algiers and Moscow, Mali and the Wagner group’s increased understanding is making the Algerian authorities cringe.

“Overusing mercenaries in the region has proven ineffective and is a destabilising factor. Algeria works to ensure that credible armies strengthen stable states. A supply of mercenaries will only make armies crumble and isolate governments,” says a diplomatic source.

Therefore, on this issue, Algiers is navigating between regional imperatives and a desire to express its anger towards Paris. An Algerian delegation was supposed to meet with high-ranking French officers to discuss the future of the fight against jihadism in Mali.

This meeting was scheduled to take place on 30 September at the Cercle National des Armées (National circle of armies) in Paris. However, Algeria’s chief of staff cancelled it in response to France’s decision to reduce, by half, the number of visas that it grants to Algerians.

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