Why Algeria's Hostage Rescue Operation Was So Extreme


Photo: AFP

The situation at an Algerian oil field that was raided by Al-Qaeda militants yesterday can be described with one word: chaotic.Reports have suggested that as many as 35 foreign hostages were killed during the Algerian military’s rescue operation. The latest report from the Algerian government itself suggests at least 32 are unaccounted for.

Algeria is reported to have turned down assistance from the U.K. and the U.S., and began the operation without informing the Brits. One British security source told CBS News that “the Algerians were firing from helicopters at anything that moved.”

Geoff Porter, founder of North Africa Risk Consulting, Inc., a political risk firm specializing in North Africa, explains Algeria’s policy with terrorists in an article for Foreign Policy. Porter argues that the country’s history with Islamist terrorism has created a policy of responding with overwhelming military force and ignoring outside help:

Algeria’s experience with Islamist insurgency during the 1990s defines its response to events today. During that conflict, a debate emerged within the Algerian government about how to deal with the violent Islamists. One side favoured a negotiated solution. The other, known as the eradicateurs, said killing the Islamists was the only approach. The eradicateurs won — and they still remain in the drivers seat in today’s Algeria.

Angelique Chrisafis, writing in the Guardian, backs up Porter’s analysis:

Faced with the return of major terrorist operations on its home turf, Algiers seemed likely to want to send a stark message to its own population, that dramatic hostage-taking would be met with a dramatic response.

The fact that the attack took aim at Algeria’s oil industry — vital for the country’s economic future — is also a huge factor — Algeria’s “eradicateurs” wanted a response that showed they would not back down.

“If this attack was intended as a game changer,” Porter writes, “if it was intended to be a harbinger of future attacks, then Algeria had to send a clear signal that the new tactic would not succeed.”

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