Friday, August 02, 2002

COUNTERINSURGENCY FLOUNDERS AS TERRORISM CHANGES FORM
Algeria Interface runs an article on the progress (or lack thereof) in Algeria's war against Islamist terrorism. A three-month terror campaign by the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) was met by a military counteroffensive around Algiers and in Lower Kabylia. While the campaign was reasonably successful, mainly due to the individual toughness of the Algerian troops, it also revealed weaknesses. The DCC, the Algerians' top commando unit, fought the operation with foot patrols, tracking the Bad Guys the old-fashioned way, and the casualties reflected the approach. A pseudonymous Commander Boudjemâa blamed fatigue, with some officers going without relief for months at a time.

An average of 100 people a month have been killed this year in Algeria, with the attacks increasing in frequency and violence in late spring. Rather than hitting remote towns and villages, the Islamists have aimed at Algiers and the area around it. Nor has the pressure in the countryside been relieved. Said Boudjemâa:
"The wave of attacks has not come as total surprise. In central Algeria and in the Algiers area the rise of new emir [commander], Rachid Oukali, dubbed Abou Tourab, has ushered in a new era of dissidence in the GIA since the death of Antar Zouabri. Not everyone has sworn allegiance to him and the chief of some katibas [battalions] have been opening up new fronts to make a name for themselves."
Algeria's problems include a lack of modern equipment. There are three sets of night surveillance equipment in the entire country, for instance. But the deeper problem is that there is still support -- given either willingly or out of a sense of self-preservation -- to the Islamists. Self-defense militias are rare (and risky to belong to), and an antiterrorist "hotline" put in place a month ago has yet to receive a call.

Aggravating this situation is the fact that the Islamists are working with Algeria's not inconsiderable criminal element. According to Interior Minister Nourredine Zerhouni, GIA has begun hiring street thugs to kill policemen and retrieve their weapons.

Given the vicious nature of both the Islamist gangs in the country, the idea of an amnesty for the GSPC was dropped shortly after floating. Commandant Boudjemâa again: "Since the Americans put the GSPC on their terror blacklist, there’s been a definite feeling that we’re all out to track down [GSPC supremo] Hassan Hattab."