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THE MAGHREB ALLIANCE

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Four Sahara desert countries are set to open a joint command headquarters in the south of Algeria to counter a growing MAGHREB al-Qaeda threat, the Algerian defense ministry said on Wednesday 04/21/2010.

The command headquarters for Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will be based in Tamanrasset, about 2,000 km south of Algiers, the Algerian capital, it said. The announcement on Wednesday followed a meeting last month of senior officials from regional governments that the US hailed as a step towards confronting MAGHREBA Al-Qaeda.

Western countries say that unless the region’s fractious governments join forces to combat Al Qaeda, the Sahara could become a safe haven for “terrorists” like Yemen and Somalia. The defense ministry did not give details about what powers the joint headquarters would have. But a senior military source in Niger said Saharan states had decided to move towards running joint operations against Al Qaeda.

Mohamed ben-Madani, editor of the London-based Maghreb Review, said it would not be easy to police the region, also known as the Maghreb. The region including the Sahara belt is substantially larger then Western and Central Europe.

He said the move had come “too late because Al Qaeda and the Tuareg (the Sahara nomads) in the Maghreb have established their bases” in the region.”They have penetrated the security services in all countries and there is very little they [authorities] can do to control [them],” ben-Madani told the Arabic TV Channel Al Jazeera.

Security experts say better regional co-operation is key to containing Al Qaeda in the Sahara because its fighters often evade capture by slipping from one country into another. Greater co-operation could also mean a larger role for Algeria, the region’s biggest economic and military power – a development Western diplomats say they are keen to see.

In the last year (2009) MAGHREBA Al-Qaeda kidnapped and some time killed about a dozen of westerners in the southern Sahara and Mauritania.
The success of the command headquarters will depend on how regional governments steer clear of the conflicts and rivalries that have in the past derailed attempts at co-operation, an Algerian security analyst said.
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