NEW MILITARY STRATEGY AGAINST TERRORISM IN MAURITANIA
Taking Algeria’s lead in securing its southern borders in the Sahara/Sahel region against terrorists, smugglers, drug traffickers and kidnapping gangs, the Mauritanian Army has announced the creation of a new military zone along Mauritania’s northeastern border with Algeria and its eastern border with Mali (for Algeria, see Terrorism Monitor, January 7). Special transit corridors and authorized gateways requiring mandatory military permits will be created in the largely uninhabited border region. General Mohamed Lamine Ould Etalib warned, "Anyone who does not comply with instructions of military units will risk being shot at directly. If anyone tries to disobey orders, he will fall under suspicion and will be directly shot" (al-Jazeera, February 14).
Additionally, all foreigners who have not entered Mauritania through official transit points have been ordered to report to authorities to rectify their status. Mauritanian Interior Minister Mohammad Ould Abileil stated that failure to use one of the 35 official border posts could result in interrogation and deportation (Ilaf.com, February 11). Colonel Mohamed Lamine Ould Taleb took to local television to announce that “this whole border region is now under the authority of the Mauritanian army which is imposing in it strict surveillance measures" (Sahara Media [Nouakchott], February 15).
Though the plan is largely a response to a series of al-Qaeda attacks on Mauritanian military units in the region and the activity of kidnapping gangs, the presence of French and Spanish oil firms in the area has been given as another reason for establishing a new security regime. The notoriously ill-equipped Mauritanian army and police received a major shipment of French military supplies in January, some of which appears to have found its way to a new “Special Intervention Group” patrolling the northern border region (Jeune Afrique, February 11).
Without surveillance aircraft, Mauritania will be hard-pressed to seal the vast and inhospitable border region from experienced smugglers who may know the desert better than Mauritania’s security forces.
While Mauritania sees threats from Algeria and Mali, Morocco has taken steps to secure its borders with Mauritania to prevent the movement of armed terrorist groups and smugglers. These measures include the introduction of a mobile scanner for examining trucks and containers at the busy Karkarat border checkpoint, the first of its kind in the region (Ilaf.com, February 11).
PAKISTAN TO STRENGTHEN PARAMILITARY LEVIES TO SECURE TRIBAL FRONTIER
With roughly 20% of its combat capability currently deployed, combating insurgency in the northwest frontier region, Pakistan’s military is eager to consolidate its hold on the tribal areas and return its regular forces to the eastern frontier with India. To accomplish this, the government has turned to one of its weakest and most unreliable security forces: the paramilitary Levies.
On February 17, President Asif Ali Zardari announced a new plan to upgrade the Levies to enable them to take on the task of providing police services and general security after the withdrawal of the army (Associated Press of Pakistan, February 17). According to the President, "The anti-militancy war is a huge national effort and calls for strengthening and upgrading all its components" (The News [Islamabad], February 19).
The Levies (originally the “Swat Levies”) were created by the British in 1895 as a paramilitary police force. The Levies now come under the administrative control of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON). The restructuring of the Levies will include an expansion in numbers, better training and the provision of modern weapons and equipment (Daily Times [Lahore], February 15). A special directorate general will be created to oversee the upgrade and operations of the Levies.
To accomplish this, the Levies have been allocated a supplementary grant equivalent to 300% of its current budget. This will be followed by $17.6 million in spending to improve the levies over the next two years. Some of this money will be spent on the construction of new posts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan (Associated Press of Pakistan, February 17). New equipment is vitally needed; until now the Levies have been issued little more than an outdated rifle and a handful of rounds.
The unreliable Levies will have an uphill struggle to maintain control in the frontier region. On February 14, the Political Agent for Orakzai Agency ordered the pay of local Levies suspended over their failure to perform their duties, citing fear of Taliban militants. The Levies were warned that they would be dismissed if they did not resume their activities (The News, February 14). Six officers from the Malakand Levies were among 155 NWFP officials against whom the government recently initiated action due to their ties to Islamist militants (The News, January 14). Last August, 66 Levies personnel, including a subadar major, were suspended after they were charged with laying down arms before the Taliban in Malakand Division in the lead-up to Operation Rah-e Rast (Nawa-e Waqt, August 27, 2009). Nevertheless, over 100 Levies have been killed and another 40 injured in clashes with militants in the last four years (The News, February 19). A suicide attack in Jamrud (Khyber Agency) on February 10 killed 15 Levies and Khassadars (Tribal Police) (The News, February 12).
Poor pay and lack of compensation to heirs if killed in action are issues that pose a major problem to recruiting capable personnel to the Levies. Taliban salaries are far higher and compensation of Rs 5 million ($58,871) is paid to the families of dead Taliban fighters (Khabrain [Islamabad], August 19, 2009). On February 9, the Peshawar High Court responded to a number of lawsuits filed by heirs of deceased Levies and ordered SAFRON to pay Rs 1 million ($11,774) as compensation to the heirs of Levies and other security personnel killed in military operations in the tribal region (The News, February 10). The upgrade program is expected to bring the wages of the Levies and Khassadars in line with NWFP police personnel in urban areas. Levies are currently paid Rs 3,500 ($41) per month, less than the official minimum wage.
Habibullah Khan, a senior member of the FATA secretariat, has suggested that the Levies establish their own investigative and intelligence services (The News, July 31, 2009). The FATA secretariat has also urged the recruitment of another 5,000 Levies to bolster the current 6,779 Levies in their new mission of securing the gains of the Pakistani military.