U.K. Special Forces may train the Algerian Army in counter-terrorism techniques as part of a security partnership agreed between Prime Minister David Cameron and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Cameron, the first U.K. premier to visit Algeria since it gained independence in 1962, is looking to deepen ties with the north African nation in the wake of the hostage crisis there this month and a battle against Islamists in neighboring Mali.
“Britain and Algeria will stand together in the fight against terrorism,” Cameron told reporters at a joint press conference with Bouteflika in the presidential palace in Algiers late yesterday. “We’ve agreed that we should have a much stronger strategic partnership.”
During the In Amenas attack, in which 38 foreign workers died, six of them British, Cameron expressed frustration at the difficulty of getting information from Algeria. He had never spoken to the country’s prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, before the crisis. The agreement saw the two countries pledge to share intelligence and create links between security experts.
Both Kim Darroch, Cameron’s national security adviser, and John Sawers, head of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, were part of the British delegation.
According to a senior government official who declined to be identified, an offer of training from Britain’s Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, who have decades of experience of counter-terrorism and hostage rescue work, is also part of the discussion.
U.K. special forces have cooperated with Nigerian armed forces. In 2012, they worked together in a failed attempt to rescue a British and Italian hostage.
According to Cameron’s office, the agreement covers the exchange of information between security experts on border and aviation security, countering explosives, and crisis response.
“The focus is very much on working with these countries to help protect their security and the security of British people in the region,” Cameron told reporters on the plane to Algiers.
The prime minister said following the attack at the In Amenas plant, in which 29 militants also died, that Western nations face a “generational struggle” against al-Qaeda extremism in West and North Africa. British security officials have been warning since at least 2010 that North Africa is a new breeding ground for terrorism.
Cameron’s office said this week that the U.K. 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.
He repeated that there would be no British combat troops sent to Mali.
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 this week to support the African operation at a meeting in Addis Ababa.