IO: The Algerian regime’s politico-military response to AQIM is causing concern among the Western powers that have military forces in the Sahel. A French general officer who wished to remain anonymous told Intelligence Online that the situation was “a big black hole”. In Washington the same view is held, and with good reason. For several months, there has been a stand-off between the Africom command, headed by General Carter Ham, and General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the chief of staff of the Algerian Army, over Algeria’s refusal to open its air space to U.S. Air Force and CIA drones in zones where the terrorists are believed to be in hiding.
This stance is not only to do with Algeria’s refusal on principle to have a Western military presence on its soil. It is also because Algeria would rather lead the operation against AQIM itself, in coordination with the forces of neighbouring Mauritania, Niger and Mali, with whom it has set up a joint intelligence centre in Tamanrasset. The arms that have found their way from Gaddafi’s arsenals to AQIM have only strengthened Algeria’s conviction that AQIM is a regional problem that they are the best placed to deal with.
It is in this context that General Athmane Tartag was appointed head of Algeria’s Direction de la Securite Interieure (DSI) in December. Because the intelligence service handles hostage affairs in the Sahel, at a decisive moment, Tartag, dubbed the “bombardier” by colleagues, has become someone the French authorities have to deal with. The French government fears that AQIM’s emirs intend to use the kidnappings to influence the outcome of France’s presidential elections in May.