Nations spanning the Sahara desert region have struggled in recent years to contain a growing threat from loosely organized groups linked to the al Qaeda terror network. Attracted by the area's vast expanses and porous borders, the insurgents have used it as a training ground and a launching pad for attacks on government facilities, killings, kidnappings and smuggling operations to fund their activities.
Six Sahara desert states took a big step toward confronting this threat recently in agreeing to set aside their differences and look for ways to coordinate efforts to combat the groups.
Foreign and Defense ministers from Chad, Burkino Faso, Libya, Mali and Mauritania met March 16 near Algiers at the invitation of Algeria to discuss the threat posed by the groups, known generally as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. Officials said they reached consensus on the need to act jointly and they agreed to meet again next month so their military and anti-terror specialists might begin to share intelligence, operational information and coordinating action on the ground.
The 6 nations aren't alone in their concern about AQIM. The United States and other nations confronting terror groups worry that unless strong steps are taken, the Sahara could become a safe haven similar to Yemen for launching not just small attacks, but large-scale ones. This poses a threat to both the 6 nations and the entire region.
The United States welcomes the decision to collectively confront the terror threat there. It is hoped that the effort will strengthen others already under way to build regional cooperation and further consolidate action against groups that seek to exploit these nations' territories to launch attacks against innocent civilians.