An Algerian security source says President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has officially ordered the army to launch military operations against “terrorists” operating near the border with Tunisia and Libya.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said on Saturday that 20,000 soldiers belonging to the army’s Special Forces and elite units were positioned in the area to carry out the mop-up operations. The army should finish the operations by the beginning of next year, the source said. Last week, 12,000 Algerian soldiers were deployed to several provinces including Tebessa, Souk Ahras and El Oued along Algeria’s border with Tunisia where Algerian authorities set up some 60 checkpoints and outposts. On August 29, Tunisia’s Defense Minister Rachid Sabbagh said his country would set up buffer zones along the borders with Algeria and Libya to fight “terrorism” in the North African country. He did not specify where the zones would be set up, but stressed that people travelling to those areas will be required to hold special permits from the government. In early August, the Tunisian army carried out military operations against militants in Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border, where eight Tunisian soldiers had been killed by suspected members of the Ansar al-Sharia group in late July. Tunisia, the birthplace of pro-democracy protests across North Africa and the Middle East, is struggling with a democratic changeover after the overthrow of its Western-backed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Also, the Libyan government is struggling to control its borders and making efforts to retrieve the arms and explosives that were looted after longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in August 2011. The central government has little authority beyond the capital, and the country is fractured by militias, tribes, and regional loyalties. The chaos in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi’s government has implications far beyond-the-border areas. Arms and explosives stockpiled by the Gaddafi government are being smuggled into Mali and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and also supplied to the foreign-backed militants fighting the Syrian government.