Security Interests Outside the Maghrib

Security Interests Outside the Maghrib

Under Ahmed Ben Bella, independent Algeria's first president, the government actively supported a host of anticolonial struggles throughout Africa. Algeria became a leading contributor to the African Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was designed to coordinate and aid African liberation movements. In 1963 the government provided training to 1,000 guerrillas from Mozambique, South Africa, and Angola. More controversially, Ben Bella's government also sponsored efforts to overthrow independent African governments that were considered to be reactionary or too closely linked to former colonial powers. Notably, during this time the Algerians supported insurgencies against the governments of newly independent Congo (former Belgian Congo, present-day Zaire), Niger, and Morocco. Ben Bella's activism, however, was ineffectual in weakening the opponents at which it was aimed. Critics charged that his stance was merely symbolic, designed to enhance the president's prestige among the "radical" bloc of African and Asian states and, by extension, to bolster his political position within Algeria.

After Ben Bella's overthrow in 1965, the Boumediene government turned its attention to domestic development issues and limited its direct involvement in destabilizing foreign governments. As a matter of principle, however, the new regime soon started assisting a number of revolutionary groups and liberation movements and allowed their representatives to operate in Algiers. These groups included liberation movements opposed to the regimes in Portuguese Africa, Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), South Africa, the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), Israel, and others. International terrorists associated with Italy's Red Brigade, the Federal Republic of Germany's (West Germany) Baader-Meinhof Gang, and the Black Panthers, composed of radical American blacks, were granted sanctuary and support. Aircraft hijackers were allowed to land in Algeria and were often granted asylum until, under international pressure, Boumediene abandoned the practice in 1978.

An important element of Algerian security policy has been the leadership's attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinian nationalists--attitudes that were underscored by Algeria's military contributions during the June 1967 and October 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Immediately after the 1967 conflict, the Algerians sent more than fifty aircraft to Egypt to replace some of those lost in the war. Algeria also reportedly sent small contingents of infantry and artillery to reinforce the Egyptians. Algeria's contribution to the October 1973 War consisted of a number of air force units that joined Egyptian forces on the Suez front and two medical teams that were dispatched to the Syrian front. Although the direct involvement of Algerian forces in these conflicts was minimal, Algeria apparently drew important lessons from Arab shortcomings against Israeli military power. Soon after the Arab defeat in 1967, Boumediene inaugurated conscription. Later, the Arabs' initial successes in the 1973 war using modern Soviet-supplied antiaircraft and antitank missiles were believed to have influenced Boumediene's decision to upgrade his armed forces with large purchases of sophisticated Soviet weaponry.

Although several liberation movements were still permitted to maintain offices in Algeria after Benjedid came to power in 1979, the government was no longer a major sanctuary for terrorist groups operating abroad. It drew a distinction between terrorism, which it condemned, and violence on the part of national liberation movements, which it considered possibly legitimate. Algeria, however, has refused to sign international agreements intended to counter acts of terrorism. In addition, a representative of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal Organization was allowed to remain in Algiers despite a number of attacks against Arab and Western targets and against its Palestinian opponents in Algeria. Representatives of two other terrorist groups--the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Front--appeared on national television to rally popular support for Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Algeria continued to back the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose efforts against Israel had long been viewed by Algerians as similar to the struggle against the French by their own revolutionaries. Although Algeria, like other Arab countries, was unable (or unwilling) to help the PLO resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Benjedid's government allowed between 1,000 and 2,000 of the guerrillas evacuated from Beirut to establish themselves in military camps in Algeria. Algeria focused its main efforts on mediating among various Palestinian factions rather than supporting a resumption of PLO military activity.


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