The Bush administration plans to expand military ties
[Special operations forces in Algeria reported they had released the last of a group of Western tourists kidnapped by a terrorist group aligned with Al Qaida.]
U.S. officials said they hope to accelerate and expand sales of military
equipment to the North African state as well as training and visits over the
next year. They said the State Department and the Defense Department have
been discussing the issue with the regime of President Abdul Aziz
The U.S. military sales will depend on Algeria's commitment to human
rights, officials said. They said an improvement in Algeria's human rights
record would prompt the sale of lethal combat systems to Algeria.
"I will work to expand relations, keeping in mind that progress in our
bilateral relationship, including on the military side, should both reflect
and encourage Algeria's own efforts to implement significant reforms,"
Richard Erdman, nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to Algeria, told the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday.
Last year, the State Department approved the export of night-vision
military systems to Algeria. The department did not detail the type and
amount of systems sold.
Officials said Algeria has demonstrated its commitment as a U.S. ally
against Al Qaida. They said Algeria has been one of the most helpful
countries in North Africa regarding the extradition of insurgents wanted by
the United States and intelligence exchanges on Al Qaida and related groups.
"As a large, populous, and geographically strategic country with a
wealth of human and mineral resources, Algeria is poised to play a key role
both in the Arab world and in Africa," Erdman said. "Working in partnership
toward the building of a stable, secure, and democratizing Algeria is thus
essential to promoting U.S. strategic objectives in both regions."
Algeria has been negotiating with such Western countries as Britain,
France and the United States for a range of military systems. Officials said
Algiers seeks to bolster night-vision and all-weather combat aircraft
capability as well as radars and ground-based sensors to track Islamic
insurgents in mountainous and wooded areas.
Meanwhile Algeria has released the last of the Western tourists
abducted by an Islamic insurgency group linked to Al Qaida.
Algerian special operations forces raided a stronghold of the Salafist
Brigade for Combat and Call and freed 15 European tourists who had been held
captive. Algerian security sources said the raid took place near the town of
Illizi, located in the Sahara desert near the Libyan border.
Few details were released on the military operation. But both Algerian
sources and Western diplomats said the raid proceeded smoothly.
On Monday, however, an Algerian commander denied that the second group
of Western tourists was released. He would not elaborate.
Last week, Algerian forces fought Salafist abductors and freed a group
of 17 tourists held in a different part of the Sahara. At the time, Algerian
officials said that virtually all of the Salafist captors were killed.
Western diplomats said the Salafists had demanded a ransom for the
release of the Western tourists, kidnapped in late February as they were
crossing the Sahara. They said negotiations were attempted, but Algeria
decided to storm the strongholds once they were located.