Strategic Perspectives

Algeria Table of Contents

Among Algeria's neighbors, only Morocco and Libya could be viewed as potential military rivals. The active personnel strength of Morocco's armed forces was greater than the strength of Algeria's force, but its army was inferior in terms of armored vehicles and artillery. The Moroccan combat air force of French and United States fighter aircraft was smaller than the Sovietequipped Algerian air force. Libya's equipment inventory--armor, artillery, and combat aircraft--was greater than either Morocco's or Algeria's, but its ground forces were much smaller. The Libyan navy was somewhat larger than that of Algeria.

Unusual geographic features present Algeria's military leadership with special challenges in protecting the security of the country's borders. In 1993 most of the population of approximately 27.4 million in 1993 was concentrated within 100 kilometers of the coast, with the density diminishing rapidly from north to south. The vast, unpopulated stretches of the Sahara Desert to the south would be difficult to defend against a strong and determined adversary. Algeria's western flank south of the Atlas Mountains would be especially vulnerable to a Moroccan attack, inasmuch as Moroccan forces would benefit from shorter communication and supply lines. Between Béchar and Tindouf, the strategic highway that roughly follows the Moroccan border could easily be severed, thereby breaking Algeria's only ground link to the mineral-rich Tindouf area and its connections with Western Sahara and Mauritania. In the northwest, however, the Atlas Mountains would act as a barrier discouraging invasion of the more populous parts of either country by the other.

The problems facing Algeria in the west are duplicated in the southeast, where the lengthy border area with Libya is isolated from the remainder of the country. A tenuous link to the region is provided by a road reaching the border town of Edjeleh, but it would be difficult to mount a defense of this remote area in the face of Libya's superiority in combat aircraft and armor.

In the far south, a trans-Saharan route branches before the border, connecting Algeria to Mali and to Niger. Fortunately, in view of the distances involved and the weak transport links, Algeria faces no serious threat from either country. Algerian border police have expelled nomadic Tuareg and black Africans who were refugees from the Sahel drought or engaged in black-market trading. Demarcation agreements were concluded with Mali and Niger in 1983.

Tunisia, with its small armed forces, has never presented a security problem for Algeria. A twenty-year disagreement over the border delineation with Tunisia was settled in 1983. Algeria and Tunisia have generally united when faced with Libyan bellicosity. When in 1985 Tunisia came under pressure from Libya in the form of border troop movements and violations of Tunisian air space, Algeria supported Tunisia by moving its troops to the border area. Algeria also signed a border agreement with Mauritania in 1985, after three years of negotiation.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress