To Anticipate the War in Libya, Look to Algeria
International campaign against Libyan terrorists could stage from Algerian bases
On the evening of June 14, U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out a secret raid t0 capture Ahmed Abu Khattala, whom Washington suspects helped mastermind the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The commandos took Abu Khattala to the amphibious ship USS New York in the Mediterranean Sea for interrogation. But future operations could begin and end on land. That’s because Algeria is set to become an important base for the world’s campaign against Libyan terror.
According to NBC News, the Abu Khattalia operation followed a month-long surveillance effort. As drones orbited overhead, the SOF troopers tracked and stopped a vehicle carrying Abu Khattala on Benghazi’s outskirts. The Americans sped to a remote area to meet aircraft—presumably helicopters or Osprey tiltrotors—for transport to New York.
This is not the first time U.S. Special Operations Forces have captured a terrorist leader in Libya. In October 2013, Army Delta Force commandos along with an FBI hostage rescue team carried out a snatch operation that led to the apprehension of Abu Anas Al Libi, who allegedly helped organize the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
The amphibious ship New York’s role in the Abu Khattala raid is not unusual. U.S. Special Operations Command frequently makes use of Navy vessels as temporary bases, flight staging areas and even prisons.
However, a recent report in an Algerian publication suggests U.S. troops might also be staging from facilities in Algeria, which borders Libya to the west. On May 26, Al Watan magazine cited sources inside the Algerian army saying that American, British and French troops are all assisting Algerian forces with their counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the country’s restive south and east.
Algiers is a natural partner for Washington, London and Paris. Algeria’s army is one of the best in Africa, with T-90SA and upgraded BMP armored vehicles, one of which is pictured here. The Algerian government also just acquired a thousand new Fuchs vehicles from Germany.
Its air force includes modernized Su-24, MiG-29 and Su-30 fighters plus Yak-130 trainers and tankers and Mi-24 attack helicopters. Drones are on order. The Algerian navy anticipates getting an amphibious assault ship and two corvettes and frigates in the near future. These platforms could carry some of the 42 Mi-28NE helicopters Algiers has ordered from Moscow.
The country has extensive counter-terrorism experience. In January 2013, Al Qaeda-linked militants seized the In Amenas gas facility in eastern Algeria, capturing hundreds of workers. Algerian commandos raided the facility, killing 29 militants. Thirty-nine hostages also died.
In May, Algerian Special Operations Forces conducted an evacuation operation after Al Qaeda threatened to kidnap the Algerian ambassador to Libya.
The convulsions could be a preview of a coming long campaign, with its focal point in Libya.
Unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, terrorists in Libya have an abundance of supplies and even local factories for making ammunition. They have immense financial resources, having sold oil to North Korea.
Libya has great ocean access and a history of state-organized smuggling. The country has the logistical infrastructure for a sustained campaign of terror.
Libyan terrorists are professionals. They don’t want publicity. They’re not interested in their own legends. For a while, officials in Washington weren’t even sure that the attack on the U.S. consulate was an intentional act of terror, as opposed to out-of-control mob violence.
The Special Operations Forces raid to capture Abu Khattala and other recent counter-terrorism operations in the Maghreb are not isolated incidents. They are early battles in what could be a long war in North Africa.
And to anticipate the next skirmish, keep an eye on Algeria.