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Algeria deploys 5,000 troops to the Libyan border

Algeria ramps up security presence at Libyan border as renegade Libyan general's military operation continues
The attack on the In Amenas gas facility alerted Algeria to the threat from militant groups (AFP)

Algeria has deployed 5,000 soldiers and policemen on the border with Libya, according to the Algerian newspaper El Khabar.

The creation of a military region in the border area enables a rapid response should security threats arise from over the Libyan border, said officials quoted in El Khabar.

The news comes after an announcement on Tuesday by an Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, stating that they "neither confirm nor deny" communicating with Libya's renegade general Khalifa Haftar. On 16 May, the general launched what he has called 'Operation Dignity', a military assault which has targeted Islamist militias in Benghazi and the Libyan parliament in Tripoli.

His stated goal is to root out Islamist forces in the country but some commentators say he may be pushing Libya to the brink of civil war.

Algeria's state press agency reports that the spokesperson affirmed Algeria's "stringent" adherence to the "principle of non-intervention" in the internal affairs of other countries.

Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst focusing on Algeria, says the country's build up of military power on its border with Libya and has been a long time coming, even ahead of Haftar's weeks-long operation that has thrown the neighbouring country into a tailspin. 

“There was a realisation within Algeria’s security agencies that Libya was going to become more and a more a hotspot,” Mesdoua said. “It’s become a hub for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).”

Since the hostage crisis in January 2013 which resulted in the deaths of seven workers from the Tigantourine gas facility in the In Amenas commune, located along the Algerian-Libyan border, there has been an increasing awareness among the Algerian security services of the threat from militant groups, including AQIM. 

An internal Algerian investigation revealed that the attack had been organised, masterminded and conducted from Libya, he said.

“The cars and trucks of the attackers came from Libya," Mesdoua said. "After that, all these realisations pushed the Algerians to focus a lot of their military efforts on that border.”

On Monday, an Algerian general, speaking on national radio, described the current situation on the Algeria-Libya border as "worrying".

"The deteriorating security situation in the neighbouring countries are all factors that require permanent vigilance and rigorous deployment," said General Boualem Madi. "We must remain very, very, very vigilant."

"All means have been mobilised to control and master the situation on our borders, to guarantee the stability and territorial integrity of the country," he added.

Although some analysts have predicted the build-up on the border could presage military intervention, Mesdoua said he is sceptical.

“One of the pillars of Algeria’s foreign policy is non-intervention,” he said. “That’s a principled stand that stems from a history of anti-imperialism, but it also comes from a pragmatic and realpolitik approach which sees these areas as quagmires or potential quagmires.”

The Algerian military, he said, is likely to be cautious about dealing directly with an external security threat.

“The army knows how to deal with insurgencies, but to get involved in foreign military intervention in an area as volatile as Libya, is really seen by decision makers as a no-go," Mesdoua said.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra told a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Thursday that Libya needs "support" from neighbouring countries to solve its current crisis without foreign intervention.

He told his Mauritanian counterpart that the situation in Libya its is "at the top" of Algeria's regional concerns, and encouraged other neighbouring countries to assist Libya "without foreign intervention".

Lamamra said Algeria was anxious to ensure that its borders are not used in any way to "unsettle the stability" of Libya.

In mid-May, Algeria evacuated its ambassador and embassy staff from Libya.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said this was due to “a real and imminent threat targeting our diplomats the decision was taken in coordination with Libyan authorities to urgently close our embassy and consulate general temporarily in Tripoli.”

Algeria was historically allied with the former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, but since his overthrow in 2011, relations have been strained as Libya has grown fractured with clashes between militias.