Algeria and Morocco have been engaged in an arms race in recent years over issues that continue to divide the two neighbouring nations, notably the Western Sahara. This is an alarming situation that could reawaken the ‘old demons’ of the battle of Amgala that took place between 27 and 29 January 1976 around the oasis of Amgala in the Sahara.
Morocco and Algeria import a significant number of weapons. The two countries imported 70% of the weapons in Africa between 2016 and 2020, according to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). According to the latest annual ranking of SIPRI, Algerian imports have even increased by 64% since 2015. The country thus becomes the 6th largest arms importer in the world.
« Algeria has the second largest army on the continent behind Egypt. The government does not refuse anything to the army. This was the method established by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, » explains Jean-François Daguzan, former deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, author of a long article, « The Algerian army in the challenge of transformation » in the latest issue of the magazine Maghreb-Machrek.
According to this specialist, Algiers modernised its forces after the black decade and placed itself in the camp of the « good » and got closer to the United States and NATO after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Russia and China are said to be Algeria’s partners from whom they buy arms. In all, a budget of more than 10 billion dollars (5,500 billion CFA francs) per year supported by oil revenues is devoted to arms purchases. « Modernisation has taken the form of a massive ‘weaponisation’ of the army, » adds Jean-François Daguzan.
Algeria has more than 1,300 modern tanks, more than 2,000 armoured personnel carriers, anti-aircraft defence systems, Meko frigates, Russian kilo-class submarines, a fleet of 58 Sukhoï 30MKA fighters, about fifteen Mig-29S and about forty Su-24 bombers… For its part, Morocco has preferred to reduce its arms purchases by 60% over the past five years.
However, the kingdom is expecting several deliveries of American equipment: 24 F-16 Viper fighter planes, 24 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and Abrams tanks. « Morocco’s arms imports should increase considerably over the next five years if these orders are fulfilled, » the SIPRI report said.
According to the Defence website, the kingdom signed, in 2020, new contracts for the acquisition of a large quantity of materials and equipment for the Royal Armed Forces (FAR). It is about 300 VLRA vehicles ordered from the French company Arquus. With the Sahara issue still a source of tension between Morocco and Algeria, the arms race raises fears of an armed conflict between the two countries.