On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper paid a rare visit to Algeria, the first of its kind since 2006, which represented an opportunity to give a new impetus to the alliance between two countries that have common strategic interests in counterterrorism efforts in North Africa, the Sahel, and the situation in Libya.
If US military officials frequently visit Tunisia and Morocco, where there is military cooperation with the United States, Esper is the first defense secretary to visit Algeria since former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in February 2006.
The Pentagon now considers Algeria a “very important partner in the region” in terms of regional security and stability, as well as in the fight against terrorism.
The US secretary left Algeria for Rabat, a traditional ally, on the last leg of his regional tour that also included Tunisia.
According to the Algerian presidential statement, the US Secretary of Defense held “fruitful” talks with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defense, in the presence of the Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Said Chengriha and Director of External Security Mohamed Bouzit.
The presidential statement stated that the two parties would continue “consultations and coordination to consolidate the foundations of peace and security in the region within the framework of respecting the unity and sovereignty of their countries.”
According to the statement of the US Department of Defense, Esper assured President Tebboune of Washington’s support for strengthening cooperation between the two countries, especially in the field of exchanging expertise and military training, and coordinating efforts to combat terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel, given the leadership role that Algeria plays in preserving the region’s security.
The two sides also discussed the situation in Libya, and ways to extricate the country from its current crisis through a political solution.
A statement issued on Thursday evening by the US embassy in Algeria said that Esper “expressed his support for the expansion of military relations between the two countries, and also highlighted Algeria’s steadfast pioneering role in the field of regional security.”
“Minister Esper discussed with President Tebboune security in all parts of North Africa and the Sahel, and ways to strengthen the strategic military and diplomatic partnership between the two countries,” the statement added.
Aside from regional geopolitical issues, the United States will also be interested in selling more weapons to Algeria, which buys 90 percent of its military equipment from Russia.
Washington is also interested in a new article in the constitution, which is expected to be voted on on the first of next November, stipulating the participation of the Algerian army in peacekeeping missions within the framework of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League, according to an American official in the Ministry of Defense.
A revival of an old partnership
As soon as he arrived in Algeria, Esber went to the “Maqam of the Martyr” (the Monument of the Unknown Soldier), where he laid a wreath on the soul of the martyrs of the Algerian war of liberation. In his first statement, he said that he has great respect for those who sacrificed for Algeria’s independence.
He added, “The United States and Algeria have been friends and partners for many years, and I hope that my visit will contribute to strengthening this cooperation and that our common interests and this common history that unites us will continue.”
The partnership between Algeria and Washington is not new at all, as Dai Algeria and the young United States signed a Treaty of Friendship and Peace in 1795 before France occupied Algeria in 1830.
During the Algerian war of liberation (1954-1962), and in a global context of decolonization, the United States supported a dialogue with the National Liberation Front, representing the Algerian people, for independence. According to some American historians, General de Gaulle negotiated with the Algerian resistance after pressure from Washington.
Currently, “the United States has strong bilateral security relations with Algeria that go back at least to the start of the war on terror” after the attacks of September 11, 2001, said Michael Shurkin, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, a US institute for military strategic studies.