Tag Archives: Algeria

Detainee Transfers and Another Terrorist Designation

Late yesterday, the US Department of Defense announced the transfer of two detainees held at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Sudan.  According to the Department of Defense, the detainees, identified as Noor Uthman Muhammed and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, were transferred in coordination with “the Government of Sudan regarding appropriate security measures and to ensure that these transfers are consistent with our humane treatment policy.”  The press release also included the following information regarding Muhammed and Idris:

“On Feb. 18, 2011, Muhammed pleaded guilty in a military commission to offenses under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, and was sentenced to 14 years confinement. In exchange for his guilty plea and Muhammed’s cooperation with prosecutors, the Convening Authority for Military Commissions agreed through a pre-trial agreement to suspend all confinement in excess of 34 months. Following the completion of the unsuspended portion of his sentence as of Dec. 3, 2013, the United States Government has repatriated Muhammed to Sudan.

“Idris was released from Guantanamo in accordance with a court order issued on Oct. 4, 2013, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Idris has been designated for transfer since 2009 by unanimous consent among all six departments and agencies on the Guantanamo Review Task Force. As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the task force conducted a comprehensive review of Idris’s case, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, in making that designation. In accordance with congressionally mandated reporting requirements, the administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these individuals.”

In addition, the US Department of State announced yesterday that it had designated the al-Mulathamun Battalion as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  The announcement described the entity as:

“Originally part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the al-Mulathamun Battalion became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split from AQIM. In Belmokhtar’s first public statement after the split he threatened to fight against Western interests and announced the creation of the sub-battalion, ‘Those Who Sign in Blood,’ reportedly made up of the organization’s best fighters. Soon after, the sub-battalion claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack against a gas facility near In-Amenas, Algeria. The four-day siege resulted in the death of at least 38 civilians, including three United States citizens. Seven other Americans escaped the attack.

“In May 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion cooperated with the E.O. 13224-designated Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in twin suicide bombings in Niger, which killed at least 20 people. In August 2013, the al-Mulathamun Battalion and MUJAO announced that the two organizations would merge under the name ‘al-Murabitoun.’ The newly formed al-Murabitoun extremist group constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel.”

The Department of State announcement added that given this history, both “Those Who Sign in Blood” and “al-Murabitoun” were treated as aliases for the purposes of the FTO designation, and that the same sanctions would be applied to activities conducted under these names.  Sanctions against FTOs include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with the designated FTO and the freezing of assets.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

The designation of the al-Mulathamun Battalion as an FTO represents a shift in the US government perception and response to the group and AQIM broadly.  Previously, official correspondence had described their activities as being largely criminal in nature, focusing more on activities like hostage taking for ransom than anti-government terrorism.  Belmokhtar had, for instance, gained the moniker “Mr. Marlboro” as a result of his cigarette smuggling, seen as hardly the focus of a hardened terrorist.  The US now describes up and coming AQIM as one of the most dangerous of Al Qaeda’s regional affiliates and has offered rewards for the capture of individuals like Belmokhtar.

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Details of US Security Assistance Efforts in North Africa

Yesterday at a hearing on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory provided some important information on US security assistance efforts in North Africa.  Dory specifically detailed efforts being conducted by the US government in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Here are the salient points:

Algeria

US Government departments and agencies, to include the department of defense are working with the Algerian government to expand cooperation and build security force capabilities.  This includes information sharing and training exercises, as well as equipment for “counterterrorism  purposes” and to enhance “defense capabilities.”  The testimony identified previous military equipment delivered by the US as including eight C-130 aircraft and an unnamed border security system built by Northrop Grumman.   The US military is also said to run an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program with the Algerian military to help modernize and enhance the professionalization of their forces.

Libya

The US military, as well as other government agencies, are heavily invested in the development of Libyan security forces and their capabilities.  Most notably, the United States has offered to provide “General Purpose Force” military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel.  These forces would be used to protect the government and help establish order, which has been a significant issue since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.  This is part of a larger US and international effort that builds on consensus reached at a Paris Ministerial-level meeting on supporting Libya’s security and justice sector needs in February and British Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement at the G-8 Summit in June about expanding international support for Libya’s security sector.  In addition to the US training offer, both the United Kingdom and Italy have committed to train 2,000 Libyan General Purpose Forces personnel, each.  Dory said that the US expected to begin training in 2014 using funds from the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and would be conducted at an unnamed facility in Bulgaria, which would be US leased and US run.

The US is also working to establish a Libyan special operations forces capability.  This effort is funded in two ways.  The first is an $8.42 million special operations support company and medical training program funded through Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The others is a $7.75 million special operations forces company build program funded through the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF; Section 1207 of the NDAA), which is a joint Department of Defense and Department of State fund.  It is unclear whether these programs are related to the special operations training effort that was reportedly stalled following a raid on a US-run training camp in September.

$14.9 million in GSCF funds are also to be used to improve Libyan border security capabilities and those of its neighbors, Algeria, Chad, and Niger.  Establishment of a Libyan border security company is part of this effort.

Lastly, the US is working with the Libyan government on a chemical weapons abatement program at Waddan said to total $45 million dollars.  These efforts are being conducted by contractors, who have set up a static detonation chamber and hope to have eliminated the rest of the stockpile by the end of the year.  The little reported US follow-on mission to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in 2011, Operation Odyssey Guard, involved securing Libya’s chemical weapon stockpile and the beginning of efforts to eliminate it.

Morocco

Morocco is a major non-NATO ally of the US with which there is a long history of cooperation.  Every year the US holds a bilateral training exercise, African Lion, with Moroccan forces.  The two countries conduct various other engagements regularly as well, such as an IMET program.   The US also works to provide Moroccan forces with significant materiel support through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense Articles programs.

Tunisia

The US government is working with Tunisia to expand the capabilities of its security forces to help in regional counter-terrorism efforts and improve border security.  The US provides training and material assistance to the country through the FMF program and conducts an IMET program with the country’s security forces.

A copy of the full testimony can be found here.