Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria will set up, within 18 months, a joint force of up to 75,000 soldiers to secure their shared Sahara-Sahel desert zone, Mali’s foreign minister said on Friday.
The four nations are struggling to control the zone, where al Qaeda’s North African wing has stepped up attacks and is operating alongside smugglers, rebels and local criminals.
A joint command centre has been established in Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, but regional rivalries and the lack of trust between the countries have long stymied a coordinated regional approach European nations and the U.S. have called for.
According to Wikipedia, Algeria has over 124,000 troops, Mauritania around 15,000, Mali around 7,500, and Niger around 12,000. All of those numbers are for total active duty military personnel, so they don’t count reservists (of whom, for example, Algeria may have some 150,000). These numbers are also inexact estimates. But one thing that seems likely is that the joint force would be Algerian-dominated, and that it will be, in a regional context, huge – five times the largest of the three non-Algerian armies, to put it in perspective.
The creation of such a force raises many logistical questions. Who will train, equip, and lead the soldiers? What will it mean to secure the Sahara? Will they undertake offensive operations against AQIM, or against smuggling networks?
What do you think – is putting this force together a good idea? Do you think it is likely to happen?