A recent report written by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies warns Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony under Moroccan control, could become the next haven for al-Qaida or related groups.
In a report titled “Why the Maghreb Matters?”, the Washington-based institute said al-Qaida has been expanding its presence throughout North Africa.
“With substantial land area, a small population and extremely limited resources, the Western Sahara could fall prey to subversion and terrorist groups now operating in the region,” the report, authored by a panel of strategists that included allies of President Barack Obama, said. “It is in the interest of the U.S. to see that this conflict does not continue, and to avoid an outcome that produces another Somalia on the Atlantic coast of North Africa.”
The report was released last month amid threats by the Polisario Front, a group seeking independence for Western Sahara, to renew its war against Morocco. In mid-April, 1,400 Polisario members and supporters, backed by Algeria, stormed into a military zone in Western Sahara, with gunmen firing in the air and tearing down a security fence.
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“Morocco and Algeria keep a watchful eye on their delicate relationship and they share an interest in not letting that relationship explode,” the report said. “But tensions between neighbors have a habit of getting out of hand on occasion, as Arab-Israeli and Indian-Pakistani relations have demonstrated in recent years.”
The report warned of Islamic insurgency groups seeking haven in the Polisario-controlled areas of Western Sahara. Polisario could welcome such groups in an attempt to break the stalemate with Morocco.
“The Polisario Front has recently stepped up its threats to return to hostilities unless its preferred solution is enforced,” the report said.
“While it may seem unlikely to some observers that the Polisario would make good on these threats without Algerian support, the dangers of the tail wagging the dog in these circumstances cannot be ignored.”
The report said the al-Qaida organization in the Islamic Maghreb is the most “immediate security concern” in North Africa. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been cooperating with the United States in the areas of military and intelligence to track and defeat al- Qaida.
“But they (North African states) seldom cooperate directly with each other,” the report said. “Rivalries, distrust and mutual suspicions among the states of the region continue to hinder cooperative efforts to work collectively against the terrorist threat, even when it is clear that the degree of cross-border activity is increasing and becoming more deadly.”
The report urged the United States to encourage North African states to expand security cooperation, while seeking to mediate a solution to Western Sahara. One proposal called for the establishment of a so-called “regional counterterrorism clearinghouse center” that would focus on battling drug trafficking and illegal immigration.
“In particular, U.S. military commanders in the region should develop programs that foster regional training and planning,” the report said.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com