U.S. Special Forces fighting Salafists in southern Algeria

Monday, March 8, 2004

CAIRO The United States has deployed Special Forces to the Sahara Desert battle a leading Islamic insurgency group with ties to Al Qaida.

U.S. officials said a Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit was operating with Algerian troops in the southern part of the country. They said the U.S. military also planned to expand operations to other parts of Algeria.

This is the first time a U.S. military force was sent to battle insurgents in Algeria. Officials said the focus was on the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call, which has been referred to as a subcontractor for Al Qaida and which has a significant presence along the southern border with Mali.

"The United States is battling terrorist activities in Algeria and the Sahel," the U.S. embassy in Algiers said in a statement. The statement said U.S. forces would also continue to train Algerian military forces, Middle East Newsline reported. The statement did not elaborate.

The United States has been reviewing an Algerian request for a range of military aircraft, including a combat helicopter. So far, the United States has provided Algeria with non-lethal equipment.

In Sudan, Khartoum's military and rebels have intensified fighting in the Western Darfour region.

Rebel spokesmen said their forces, including the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement killed more than 400 soldiers and militiamen in battles over the weekend.

The rebels were said to have halted a Sudanese military drive near the Darfour capital of Fasher. A second battle took place near Nyala in the southern part of Darfour.

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