U.S. concerned Algerian buildup may be overkill

Monday, June 11, 2007 | Posted by

WASHINGTON — The United States has questions about Algeria's military buildup.

The State Department has been discussing Algeria's $7.5 billion arms purchase from Russia, a contract signed in 2006, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the Algerian order of hundreds of Russian-origin MiG-29s, Su-30 aircraft as well as T-90 main battle tanks appeared unnecessary.

"It is my understanding that the Algerian government is pursuing a significant military deal with outside suppliers, in this case, I believe, Russia," Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said. "I am not certain that we would share the Algerian government's understanding of the requirements of such purchases, given their defense needs."

The Algerian deal, the largest in at least 25 years, was meant to modernize the air force and army. Russia has pledged an accelerated delivery schedule and has already sent MiG-29SMTs and T-90s to Algeria.

"We would probably see their requirements as more modest," Welch told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 6.

At the same time, officials said, the State Department has assessed that Algeria would not exploit its military buildup against Morocco, a neighbor and rival. Algeria has been supporting the Polisario separatist group in the disputed Western Sahara, claimed by Morocco.

"We don't see any indication that they [Algeria] intend to use these weapons, if they purchase these weapons, in an offensive manner against their neighbors," Welch said.