© Reuters. Algerian troopers take positions throughout an operation within the Ain Defla mountains
By Lamine Chikhi
AIN DEFLA, Algeria (Reuters) – Algerian troopers fired high-calibre rounds right into a scrubby hillside of the Ain Defla mountains final week, a part of an operation towards the persistent risk of Islamist militants after they launched a recent assault final month.
They stalked within the rain between pine timber alongside muddy tracks, rifles raised, earlier than dropping right into a crouch, a lot of them too younger to recollect the Nineteen Nineties jihadist insurgency that killed 200,000 Algerians.
20 years after that bloodshed ended, the militant risk in Algeria has largely been contained. Nevertheless, al Qaeda and different teams together with an Islamic State department nonetheless maintain out in some distant areas, largely within the huge desert border area with Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger.
The operation in Ain Defla was aimed toward a small group that the military believed to be hiding within the mountains, about 180 kms (112 miles) west of the capital Algiers.
It had splintered from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Fight, one among Algeria’s oldest militant organisations and the forerunner of its al Qaeda franchise, the military stated.
Reuters and a neighborhood information company had been escorted in the course of the operation by the army.
“Our purpose is to repair, encompass and liquidate a gaggle of terrorists on this perimeter,” stated a military captain, calling it a fight mission.
His column of 5 autos crawled throughout the barren terrain, utilizing jamming units to forestall militants utilizing cell telephones to detonate explosives.
Within the moist climate, it took the column almost two hours to drive simply 50 kms (30 miles) alongside the marshy tracks underneath the two,000-metre (6,000-ft) peak of Mount Ouarsenis.
In a single place, troopers sat behind sandbags underneath a bivouac looking throughout a mountain valley, the wind ruffling the camouflage sample sheet above them.
Massive-calibre gunfire rattled out throughout the panorama. The troopers had been taking pictures into an space they might not attain.
“These pictures are meant to scrub areas the place terrorists could also be hiding,” a colonel stated.
Algeria’s important safety focus has shifted lately from the interior risk that after ran rampant via rural areas and dense cities to borders with unstable neighbours.
“They’re small in numbers, so you must hunt them one after the other,” a safety supply stated of militant teams nonetheless current in Algeria.
Although some militants stay in areas like Ain Defla, the area’s conventional pastoral life continues.
Lazali Belgacem, an animal herder in a brown hooded gown and yellow turban, stated he felt safer than previously as he led a donkey throughout a mountainside, his cows strolling forward.
“I was very afraid of terrorists. They may kill or kidnap you,” he stated.
In January, three troopers and 6 armed males had been killed in clashes within the Tipaza area, between Ain Defla and Algiers.
It was a comparatively uncommon current episode in a jihadist battle that has largely moved into the deep sahara.
Al Qaeda within the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), essentially the most potent militant group working in North Africa, has discovered extra room for manouevre within the insurgencies rattling Mali and Niger.
The previous AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel was killed in Mali final 12 months. His successor, Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, can also be considered based mostly there.
AQIM, arrange in 2007, seeks to exchange Algeria’s authorities with sharia rule however has not carried out any huge assaults for the reason that 2013 assault on a desert fuel plant by which 40 staff and greater than 20 militants had been killed.
Final 12 months the Defence Ministry stated it had killed 21 militants in Algeria. In response to constitutional modifications authorized in a referendum final 12 months, the army will in future be capable to function past Algeria’s borders in some circumstances.