The Algerian government is embarking on a concerted campaign to deepen economic and security relations with Mauritania. In early January, Major General Mohamed Bamba Meguett, Chief of Staff of the Mauritanian Armed Forces, spent three days in Algeria, meeting with his local counterparts and catching glimpses of Algeria’s domestic weapons industry. According to the first accompanying excerpt, from al-Araby al-Jadid, a pro-Qatar pan-Arab daily, Algeria offered to supply the Mauritanian army with domestically produced military vehicles, ammunition, and other equipment. They also made plans for Mauritanian soldiers to study and train in Algerian military academies.

Algeria’s outreach to Mauritania also includes a push to resurrect the Joint Operational Military Staff Committee (known as CEMOC for its French-language acronym), a coordination framework for the armed forces of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger to jointly combat terrorism in the Sahel. Initially proposed by the 2017 French-led “Group of Five” or “G5 Sahel” Joint Force (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania),. According to the excerpt from Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu Agency, France and Algeria are putting forth competing models to deal with armed groups in the Sahel, with the French model emphasizing “direct military intervention in the Sahel countries,” while the Algeria model favors an approach wherein countries operate only within their borders, while sharing intelligence and coordinating military operations.

Algeria’s overtures to Mauritania are not merely about securing the Sahel from jihadist marauders. They are also motivated by competition with Morocco for influence in northwest Africa. Algeria has been a longtime backer of the Polisario Front, the Western Saharan (Sahrawi), armed independentist movement. In mid-November, a gunfight erupted between Polisario fighters and the Moroccan military in the village of Guerguerat, near the Western Sahara-Mauritania border. Since then, several countries have moved to recognize Moroccan claims on the Western Sahara. As the final accompanying excerpt from al-Araby al-Jadid notes, Mauritania has historically been an arena of Algeria-Morocco competition, in particular as it relates to the Western Sahara.

There is also a commercial dimension to Algeria’s interest in Mauritania. As one of the excerpts explains, the new Algerian government is focused on strengthening trade with West Africa and the Sahel. In 2018, Algeria and Mauritania opened their first border crossing near the Algerian desert city of Tindouf, home to the largest concentration of displaced Sahrawis and considered a center of gravity for the Polisario Front. Algerian interest in West Africa is likely boosted by Chinese interest in Algeria as a gateway to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mauritania has long been the subject of a power struggle between Algeria and Morocco because of the Sahara issue, an issue that has always governed the nature of Mauritania’s relations with both Algeria and Morocco…

Source: “(Algeria Calls for a New Path in its Cooperation with Mauritania),” al-Araby al-Jadid (a pro-Qatar pan-Arab daily), 6 January 2021.

General Mohamed Bemba Muqit visited Algerian military vehicle production sites. In addition to training Mauritanian military cadres in Algeria’s various schools and military academies, Algeria offered to supply military vehicles, ammunition and other equipment manufactured in Algeria for the Mauritanian army.

A month ago, the Algerian army announced its intention to grow its military industry by developing a number of its industrial establishments and provide them with the latest technologies. In a previous meeting with the directors of the military industry’s factories and companies, Chengriha urged them to enhance the various branches and specialties in the fields of research, development and military manufacturing, to include not only meeting the needs of the army locally but also to penetrate regional and international markets and seriously think about exporting Algerian military industry products, especially to neighboring countries such as Tunisia and Mauritania, and African Sahel countries such as Niger.

The Algerian army owns a factory to manufacture military and armored vehicles, established in partnership with the German brand
“Mercedes,” a factory for machine guns, research centers and workshops for developing unmanned aircraft and assembling gunships, other factories for maintenance, ammunition and explosive materials, and workshops for the implementation of video surveillance systems for large installations and facilities.

Source: “(France’s setback in the Sahel, Will it strengthen Algeria and Mauritania’s military cooperation?)” Anadolu Agency (Turkey’s state-run news agency), 11
January 2021.

In a move that would revive the spirit of the so-called “countries in the field” (Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger) that was formed in 2010, Chengriha stressed “the importance of making greater use of the available security cooperation mechanisms, especially the CEMOC Joint Military Staff Committee,” which has its headquarters in the city of Tamanrasset, in the far south of Algeria. Chengriha identified the nature of this cooperation in “exchanging information and coordinating actions on both sides of the common borders of member states.” Herein lies the essence of the dispute between Algeria’s vision of combating terrorist organizations, and the French tactic fighting it in the Sahel region.

Paris prefers direct military intervention in the Sahel countries, through military bases, combat aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, in addition to military teams on the ground, through the Group of Five coalition (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania), which was formed in 2017. Meanwhile, Algeria believes that every Sahel country should fight terrorist groups within its territory with intelligence and military coordination between these countries on the borders.

Source: “(3 Reasons for Algeria’s Push toward Mauritania),” al-Araby al-Jadid (a pro-Qatar pan-Arab daily), 8 January 2021.

Recently, Algeria has rushed in a notable way toward its southern neighbor Mauritania, through an intense series of ministerial visits to Nouakchott, substantial Algerian support for Mauritanian efforts to confront the Coronavirus epidemic, and military cooperation between the armies of the two countries. There is also an agreement for security cooperation on the horizon, as well as preparations for a large economic presence after the first commercial land crossing between the two countries was opened in August 2018…

Algeria is focusing more on its relations with surrounding and neighboring countries, especially in the Sahel region. [President Abdelmadjid] Tebboune’s creation of the Agency for International Cooperation, which is in charge of setting policies with neighbors and is headed by Muhammad Shafiq Mesbah, a former officer in the intelligence service, contributed to the drafting of these new policies, especially towards Mauritania. Relations with Nouakchott are currently receiving significant political, economic and security attention…

… there is also a political factor behind this push, namely Algeria’s search for a fulcrum in West Africa in the context of its new policies toward that region. These calculations are not unrelated to political competition between Algeria and Morocco over who has the largest presence in the region, especially given Mauritania’s political connection to the Western Sahara conflict as a United Nations observer country. It also has a geographical connection to the Guerguerat crossing, which was the subject of a recent dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front. In this context, the Mauritanian researcher in political affairs, Abdallah Ould Biba, said in an interview with al-Araby al-Jadid, that “Mauritania has long been the subject of a power struggle between Algeria and Morocco because of the Sahara issue, an issue that has always governed the nature of Mauritania’s relations with both Algeria and Morocco. The recent Algerian interest in Mauritania is also related to the development of Nouakchott’s position supporting the international solution and moving away from the Moroccan proposal.”

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