Algeria’s government ready for dialogue with opposition: Deputy PM

An Algerian teacher holds a national flag in front of security forces during a protest in central Algiers on March 13, 2019 against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid to prolong his two-decade rule. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019

Algeria’s government ready for dialogue with opposition: Deputy PM

  • Armed Forces Chief of Staff said the army would preserve Algeria’s security
  • The initiative by Bouteflika has failed to satisfy many Algerians

ALGIERS: Algeria’s government is ready for dialogue with the opposition, its Deputy Prime Minister said on Wednesday, after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reversed a decision to seek a fifth term in the face of mass protests.
“Dialogue is our duty. Our top priority is to bring together all Algerians,” Ramtane Lamamra told state radio.
Earlier, Armed Forces Chief of Staff and deputy defense minister Ahmed Gaed Salah told Ennahar TV the army would preserve Algeria’s security “in all circumstances and conditions.”
The initiative by Bouteflika, who also delayed elections and said a conference would be held to discuss political changes, has failed to satisfy many Algerians who continue to want the country’s stale political system dismantled quickly.
Tens of thousands of people from all social classes have demonstrated almost daily against a political system dominated by the military and veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
Bouteflika has ruled for 20 years but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.


Defense chief: US troops leaving Syria to go to western Iraq

Updated 17 min 14 sec ago

Defense chief: US troops leaving Syria to go to western Iraq

  • Esper did not rule out the idea that US forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria
  • US troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under the current plan all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the Daesh group to prevent its resurgence.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to the Middle East, Esper did not rule out the idea that US forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he said those details will be worked out over time.
His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-Daesh fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.
The developments made clear that one of President Donald Trump’s rationales for withdrawing troops from Syria was not going to come to pass any time soon. “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home,” he said Wednesday. But they are not coming home.
As Esper left Washington on Saturday, US troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the US-allied Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out on Friday between US and Turkish leaders.
Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 US troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish allies who have fought the Daesh group alongside US troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 US troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-Daesh mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
The US currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The US pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after the Daesh group began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider US occupation during the war that began in 2003.
Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.
Asked if US special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.
He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-IS missions looks like, “but we have to work through those details. He said that if US forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.
While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it “generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground.”
He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the US to fight IS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the IS prisons in their areas.
“I can’t assess whether that’s true or not without having people on the ground,” said Esper.
He added that the US withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and will take “weeks not days.”
According to a US official on Saturday, about a couple of hundred troops have left Syria so far. The US forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the US military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.