Saharan countries' bid to fight terror

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The Independent Online

four sahara desert nations opened a joint military headquarters yesterday in an unusual joint effort to combat terrorism and trafficking in north-west Africa.

The new command and control centre is in the Algerian city of Tamanrasset, about 1,740 miles (2,800km) south of the nation's capital and deep in the desert. Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger share porous borders across the Sahara, the world's largest desert.

They hope to establish a collective security response to threats from the jihadist terror group Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which operates across northern Africa. Algeria's military did not specify when the new combined headquarters at Tamanrasset would be operational or how many officers would staff it.

A Western security official who follows the region closely said enhanced co-operation had been made urgent by several recent incidents. In March, army patrols from Algeria and Mali clashed by mistake for several hours near their common border before realising that neither of them were terror groups.

Army units in the Sahara region sometimes have difficulty knowing which country they are in because there are often no landmarks along borders and they lack radio equipment to talk to each other. The US and other Western nations have pressed for years for Saharan countries to better co-operate at controlling the desert. AQIM claimed several kidnappings of tourists in the region, including the British hostage Edwin Dyer, who was killed last year when Britain refused to pay a ransom. The group is also blamed for killing a US aid worker in neighbouring Mauritania last June.