It could be a new sign of Algeria's support for the Polisario Front

Why does Algeria conduct military manoeuvres on the border with Morocco?  

photo_camera PHOTO/AP - Saïd Chengriha supervisa las maniobras militares del ejército argelino en Tinduf 

Following the Polisario Front's declaration that it does not rule out war, Algerian armed forces carried out land and air manoeuvres in the south-west of the country on 17 and 18 January. Although the location of the exercises was not revealed, the decision to hold them in Bechar, the country's third military region, was not accidental. In addition to its proximity to the Moroccan border, the Bechar region is home to the city of Tindouf, where the largest colony of Sahrawi refugee camps is located, considered to be the headquarters of the Polisario Front in Algeria. The demonstration, which was broadcast on public television, reportedly consisted of "combat preparation" manoeuvres, to "develop the experience", without making any mention of the latest events in Western Sahara. These exercises were supervised by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Said Chengriha.   

A day after the manoeuvres, Sidi Wagal, the Polisario Front's security authority, assured at a press conference that tensions with Morocco were increasing and would "most certainly end in an escalation of the war". He added that he did not exclude that Mauritania and Algeria could intervene in this potential war. Although neither Algeria nor Mauritania responded to these allegations, Algeria's military exercises show that the Polisario Front continues to enjoy Algeria's unconditional support. Last year, several African countries traditionally on the Polisario Front's side recognised the "Moroccanity" of Western Sahara, as is the case with some southern African countries such as Malawi.   

This show of force by Algeria very close to the border with Morocco, displaying its military arsenal, was intended to provoke Morocco, warning that, if necessary, Algeria would be ready for combat. General Chengriha, like the majority of military leaders in the Algerian army, classifies Morocco as a classic enemy, as they have reiterated in press conferences, such as that of 23 December 2019, in which Chengriha himself described Morocco as an enemy country.   

Despite this demonstration of Algeria's power, the country is not at its best. The energy minister announced last Sunday that hydrocarbon exports have fallen by 40%, which represents a loss of 20 billion dollars. For a country which depends on the energy sector, the consequences of the pandemic, in general, and the delicate moment in the hydrocarbons sector, in particular, have seriously affected the country's economy. Added to this is the political instability since the fall of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019, from which Algeria has not yet recovered. Its current president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, was recently hospitalised in Germany for a coronavirus and had to return home last January due to medical complications. For all these reasons, despite the show of force, Algeria cannot afford to enter into a military conflict. As the Algerian authorities are perfectly aware of this reality, the military exercise was intended to remind Morocco and reaffirm Algeria's support for the Polisario Front, despite the political and economic difficulties the country may be experiencing. This is not the first time that such a provocation has taken place, similar exercises were carried out in 2016 in the same region. The difference is that, in this case, the manoeuvres took place at a time of active conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, since the breakdown of the ceasefire last November.