21 December 2012

North Africa: Maghreb Countries Boosting Border Security, Fearing Mali Crisis Fallout

Nouakchott, Mauritania — Terrorists in northern Mali are facing new difficulties after a number of Maghreb countries imposed a siege by closing their borders and intensifying efforts to monitor the movement of arms.

On Wednesday (December 20th), Libya carried out an airstrike against suspected smugglers near the border with Chad and Sudan. It was the first such action since Libyan legislators on Sunday ordered the closure of the southern border and declared frontier provinces a restricted military zone.

The policy was just the latest in a series of steps taken by Maghreb states to tighten border controls in anticipation of possible West African military action in northern Mali.

Libyan authorities have expressed fear that the terrorists might use the south as an area to set up their camps; something which would enable them to boost their relations with the terrorists who control northern Mali.

Earlier this month, the Algerian army killed four militants, including three Libyans, attempting to infiltrate the border. The men were reportedly trying to smuggle an arms shipment to Wazi, a joint crossing between Libya, Algeria and Niger.

In Mauritania, meanwhile, military experts continue to study a security and military plan to close borders with Mali in the event of war.

A Mauritanian military source said that army units would be deployed along the 2,000km-long border with Mali, Atlas.info reported. The army would also step up border checkpoints to prevent the infiltration of any militants into Mauritania.

As to Morocco, the country is now paying more attention to the movements of terrorists along the Mauritanian border. Morocco sent a 1,500-man strong army force at the end of February to comb the area in search of an infiltrating terrorist.

Mauritania and Morocco plan to beef up security in the buffer zone to reduce smuggling and prevent the formation of a safe haven for terrorists to hide.

Preparations for a West African intervention in Mali are continuing as well.

Soldiers believed to be from the French army's special operations forces destroyed an arms depot in northern Mali in a secret operation carried out on December 13th, El Khabar reported.

The overnight operation targeted hidden anti-aircraft missiles and ended with the destruction of an arms depot 20km east of the Amashash military base, where unidentified military aircraft and reconnaissance planes were seen flying, according to the Algerian daily.

"The military site, which belonged to the Malian army in the past, was fully destroyed by an unknown armed group wearing military uniforms," El Khabar added. "The guards who were defending the arms depot were killed."

The newspaper cited Emnan Ag Masoud, a former leader of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as saying that a force consisting of 20 to 30 armed men wearing military uniforms clashed with 12 gunmen from al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Din who were defending the arms depot.

The base contained missiles and heavy ammunition, including some once belonging to the Malian army.

"These are intelligence forces carrying out operations to pressure the terrorists before the launch of the expected war on Azawad," journalist Mohamed Ould Sid al-Mokhtar commented.

Moulay Ould Bahida, editor-in-chief of Mauritania's mauritanid.net, told Magharebia that the military operation was "aimed at ridding Azawad of the remains of Malian army, such as anti-aircraft missiles and missile-launchers, lest they should be used in targeting international military aircraft". - Magharebia

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