Seventy Russian Mig-29 Fighters, US-French Avionics

Algeria will purchase 70 Mig-24 fighter jets from Russia in a transaction worth $1.5 billion, to be paid for from Algeria’s oil revenues. Strange though it may seem, the purchase was arranged during last month’s lightning visits to North Africa by US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources explain the North African country’s sudden need for a fleet of Russian warplanes. They have become necessary because the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terror force which the United States and France are building to combat al Qaeda’s spreading incursions through North and West Africa needs an air arm. This arm must provide air cover for ground units, also gather intelligence and conduct surveillance operations against the enemy.

The outdated Algerian air force is based on Russian-built aircraft and Russian maintenance; most of its flight crews were trained in Russian aviation schools. It would have taken years and billions of dollars to retrain them. Therefore, to save time and get the counter-terror force up and running without delay, US and French war planners agreed to the Algerian air force purchasing a new fleet of fighter planes in Russia.

Because the aircraft were in stock and available immediately, Rumsfeld and Algerian president Abdel Aziz Bouteflika approved the deal to buy Russian fighter jets. However, American and French engineers and technicians will outfit them with avionics, radar and intelligence-gathering gear, including special equipment for counter-terror operations in desert conditions.

US sources familiar with the aviation industry comment that if France was willing to give up a sale of 70 warplanes to Algeria, President Jacques Chirac must be really worried that al Qaeda’s African-based threat looms very close indeed.

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