As five Statoil employees remain unaccounted for in Algeria, authorities are concerned about Norway’s future role there. The Norwegian government also proposes military contributions in North Africa.
Last week’s Mokthar Belmokhtar-masterminded terrorist attack on the Statoil/BP In Alménas gas facility claimed the lives what is said to be now 37 foreign hostages.
Algerian geologist Abdelkader Saadallah, who fled from Islamists in the country almost 20 years ago, has told regional paper Stavanger Aftenblad he believes the terrorists had spent months planning the assault.
“I think they had good intelligence about the situation at the In Aménas gas facility. They struck when they found a small vulnerability in security procedures there,” he said.
Mr Saadallah also said he believed the current situation in Libya following 2011’s war made it easy for the terrorists to attain their target without being seen.
“I was part of a team conducting geological surveys in southern Algeria in 1978. We were there for two months without meeting another soul. It was an area that was very difficult to monitor.”
Lack of awareness
Tore Berntsen/Ministry of the EnvironmentErik Solheim – former International Development Minister for the Socialist Left (SV), and now recently-appointed leader of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – thinks Norway made a considerable mistake in joining the Allied military operation against Muammar Gaddafi in oil-rich Libya.
“We went to war in a country about which we possessed limited knowledge. Our allies in the Libya war didn’t have a clear idea of the consequences for an already difficult region either,” he told Klassekampen, Tuesday.
Traditionally anti-NATO Party SV did support Norway going in, but not without some reservations.
“We feel the dividing line between military and civilian parts of the campaign has become blurred, and are very uncomfortable with the current pattern,” SV’s Petter Eide said The Foreigner in an interview at the time.
“It appears as though a war is being conducted on behalf of the civilians, but fear the Norwegian military is being used to support just one part. Its role is to support the civilians, not participate in a civilian war,” he added.
“Statoil wasn’t really the main target”
Helge Lurås, SISA director
Centre for International and Strategic AnalysisNorway contributed six of its F-16 fighter jets that were deemed extremely effective, also resulting in budget overruns at home.
The Foreigner asked Helge Lurås, director of Norway’s Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (SISA), how he thought the war in Libya has influenced the In Aménas gas facility attack.
“It’s difficult to say whether the action would have taken place anyway, though it might have happened in a different manner,” he said.
“More weapons became available following the war in Libya, but the overthrow of control in Northern Mali is also directly connected to the some 1,000 Tuareg fighters that used to be under Gaddafi. It [the situation in Libya] directly impacted how they [the terrorists] entered from Libya.”
What about Norway’s role in Libya in relation to the terrorists’ choice of target and consequences?
“I don’t think Norway’s participation had anything to say in the fact that Statoil was targeted. Their attack was directed at Western oil companies in Algeria in general and the Algerian government,” said Mr Lurås.
He added that fighting terrorism would have gained a short-term advantage if the Arab Spring had not happened and Gaddafi was still in power.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide has revealed that Norway may opt to send some military personnel to helpefforts against terror in Northern Africa, though nothing has been decided yet.
France already has several thousand soldiers there. The In Aménas attack was believed to be a retaliatory one to the French soldiers’ intervention.
Norway MFA team meeting at embassy in Algeria
Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr"We must prevent that extremist Islamic forces become deeply entrenched in Northern Mali,” Minister Barth Eide stated to Aftenposten, Monday, “all experience shows that areas outside government control become deployment areas for terrorists.”
Christian Democrat (KrF) leader Knut Arild Hareide, who’s Party is currently part of the Opposition, has adopted a conditionally favourable tone.
Human Rights Watch director Jan Egeland thinks weapons alone will not dispose of terror, however. SISA’s Helge Lurås suggests caution.
“We should draw on what we have learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan and not go in on the ground,” Mr Lurås explained to The Foreigner, “my advice is to keep any military contribution as small as possible. This should be done for largely symbolic reasons and to maintain good relations with Europeans,” he added.
What are the possible consequences and traps for Norway should it decided to go in?
“Northern Africa is not a core area for Norwegian foreign policy interests”, said Mr Lurås. “It wouldn’t be a good idea to put Norway on the radar unnecessarily, as it might give other locals additional arguments to fight against the Norwegian government.”
Statoil's Amenas Gas Plant in Algeria
Kjetil Alsvik/StatoilMeanwhile, oil researcher Helge Ryggvik thinks Statoil should consider withdrawing from Algeria due to the immense security challenges it faces following last week’s fatal assault.
“Oil company BP experienced some ten attacks per year in Colombia during the 1990s and 2000s. The solution was a separate “pipeline protection force," a military department under the Colombian army, but funded by BP,” he told Dagsavisen, Tuesday.
“I've also heard people say that Statoil should begin using drones. You should stop and reconsider what kind of society you are in if this kind of measure is the next step to ensuring your employees' safety, rather.”
Norwegian company Nel Hydrogen, that has two smaller hydrogen gas facilities in Algeria, has already informed its customers work will be postponed “until we’re completely sure the security situation there is adequate enough,” a Telemark County publication in eastern Norway reported.