U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Algeria, seeking to step up security cooperation following this month’s hostage crisis in the African nation and as the battle against Islamists engulfs neighboring Mali.
Cameron was meeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal in Algiers late today, less than two weeks after terrorists killed at least 38 foreign workers, six of them British, at a gas complex in the southeast. He’s stopping en route to a United Nations panel on development in Liberia and is the first serving British prime minister to visit Algeria since it gained independence from France in 1962.
The prime minister, who chairs the Group of Eight industrialized nations this year, is trying to lead a coordinated international response to the threat from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel region, his office said. He said last week in a speech in Davos, Switzerland, that it was one of his G-8 priorities.
“The In Amenas attack and the situation in Mali remind us of the importance of partnership with countries in this region,” Cameron told reporters en route to Algiers. He said he wants a “strengthened security partnership and also a partnership in other areas including trade and business and investment.”
There was tension between the two countries over the rescue mission by Algerian forces, which Cameron was only informed of when he telephoned his Algerian counterpart. He said he had told the Algerian government that he wanted to be consulted before any action was taken.
“I will not hide the fact that we were disappointed not to be informed of the assault in advance,” Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Jan. 18. “But we have to understand that it was about the danger they faced and they felt they had to act.”
Western nations face a “generational struggle” against al-Qaeda extremism in West and North Africa, Cameron said following the attack at the In Amenas plant, in which 29 militants also died. British security officials have been warning since at least 2010 that North Africa is a new breeding ground for terrorism.
“The greatest threat of terrorism in this region is to the countries in this region,” Cameron said. “The focus is very much on working with these countries to help protect their security and the security of British people in the region.”
Jonathan Evans, the director general of Britain’s Security Service, also known as MI5, said in a speech in June that “whereas a few years ago 75 percent of the priority casework” was linked to Afghanistan or Pakistan, that figure had since fallen to 50 percent. “Al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel have become more dangerous as al-Qaeda in Pakistan has declined,” he said.
The prime minister is accompanied by his national security adviser, Kim Darroch, and his special envoy for economic partnership with Algeria, Richard Spring, who is known by his title, Lord Risby.
Cameron’s office said yesterday that Britain is ready to deploy as many as 200 British military personnel to West Africa to help train a regional intervention force for Mali, as well as contributing 40 people to a European Union training group.
France has deployed 2,500 soldiers and West African countries are sending an initial 3,300 to Mali to help clear the north of the country of Islamist forces. Western donors pledged more than $450 million yesterday to support the African operation at a meeting in Addis Ababa.