Security has crumbled on Tunisia’s western border with Algeria in recent months. A small but destructive group of jihadi militants with links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has infiltrated the region, with weighty security implications for both Tunisia and Algeria. To successfully rout the jihadists in the short term, the Tunisian military needs better equipment, which the government has promised to deliver. But it is not yet clear whether Tunis is ready to pursue the deeper military and economic reforms needed to quell the terrorist threat in the long term.
Tunisian government forces have so far failed to crush two jihadi groups entrenched in the mountains tracing Tunisia’s western border with Algeria. The larger collection of militants, around 20 in number, is ensconced in the Mount Chaambi area. Around half are Tunisians, the rest Algerians. There is a second band of around 10 armed radicals in the Kef region further north. The government has confirmed that both groups have links to al-Qaida and are veterans of the conflict in Mali.
Jihadi militancy has been smoldering on Tunisia’s western border for several months; the military has pursued armed radicals in Mount Chaambi since December, following an attack on a border post. However, the operation to expel the fundamentalists intensified in April, when bombs planted by the militants injured soldiers scouring the area. Several government fighters have now lost their limbs from stepping on mines while pursuing the jihadi. But they have yet to arrest or kill a single rebel, according to Tunisia’s Defense Ministry.