DEBKA-Net-Weekly 242 of Feb. 17, 2006, covered US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s mid-February visits to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, to pull North and West Africa together for a revival of the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terror Initiative.
He acted in response to the mounting threat of al Qaeda and its offshoots from bases scattered among local tribes in the Sahel belt and the Sahara desert. The fundamentalist terror group designates this region Zone 9.
Al Qaeda’s main instruments of operation in the region are the Algerian Salafist Group of Preaching and Combat – the GSPC and the North African Jam’a in Morocco.
This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports, affirmative responses to Rumsfeld’s plan were received in Washington from Morocco’s King Muhammed VI and Algerian president Abdel Aziz Bouteflika. The two rulers gave the US government the go-ahead for the establishment of what would amount to a special inter-African response force for counter-terror operations in Zone 9.
Our sources run down the first steps planned for the coming months.
A joint African command will be set up to supervise logistical and intelligence collaboration for the anti-al Qaeda war among nine nations – Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, West Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, and possibly Libya at some stage.
Most of the high ranking officers will be Algerian. They adamantly insisted on having the top positions so that their president could be seen by his people to have secured every possible mark of respect for Algerian national dignity.
That took care of the outer aspect of the force. In practical terms, it will be run by American and French officers. The Moroccans, who found it hard to swallow the high ranks awarded Algerian officers, were compensated by a secret pact concluded with Rumsfeld for Algerian officers to be barred from the disputed territory of West Sahara and for Moroccan officers to command field operations alongside their US and French counterparts.
The Americans agreed to deploy satellites for surveillance of the 3,000 sq.mile territory. Incoming data will be passed on to Moroccan and Algerian intelligence units working with the special force and its coordination center.
Algerian and Moroccan air forces will conduct patrols and surveillance. They will swap the images and intelligence data each of their flight crews gathers from the ground.
All the African governments which joined the anti-al Qaeda initiative agreed to Rumsfeld’s proposal to draw up a treaty as a sort of road map for joint combat to eradicate terrorism from the Sahara and the Sahel regions. The precise practical steps for preventing al Qaeda from settling in those regions will be outlined in the document.
The US secretary of state and ambassadors conducting the negotiations with local leaders quickly discovered that the entire counter-terror project would stand or fall by an extensive US economic aid program. Washington saw there was no way out of offering the African participants a kind of Marshall Plan. The cost of this program plus the outlay for setting up the inter-African counter-terror force could run to $2-3 billion over the next five years.
Rumsfeld and the ambassadors were informed bluntly that al Qaeda’s West and North African networks are rolling in ill-gotten cash from crime and dope smuggling. They have millions of dollars to spare for bribes to buy the services of local military and intelligence agencies for derailing the American initiative.