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Algeria 'to cut U.S. arms, go Russian'

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by Staff Writers
Algiers, Algeria (UPI) Jun 1, 2010
Algeria's defense ministry plans to cut arms purchases from the United States because of lengthy delivery delays and concentrate on Russian weapons systems, the El Khabar newspaper reports.

Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport has signed two contracts worth $1.2 billion to deliver 16 Sukhoi Su-30 multi-role fighters to Algeria and six to Uganda, Russia Veomosti daily reported Monday.

The Irkut Corp., part of Russia's United Aircraft Corp., says it has delivered 28 Su-30MKA jets to Algeria, customized to meet Algerian specifications, since 2006.

There was no immediate confirmation by Algeria authorities of Monday's report in El Khabar.

Two years ago, Algeria refused to accept MiG-29 interceptors bought from Russia because of their "inferior quality." Moscow said Russia's defense ministry would fork out $690 million to buy back the aircraft.

It isn't clear why the Algerians, a key Cold War regional client of the former Soviet Union, would now seek to turn again to Moscow for its military equipment.

However, Moscow is making a serious effort to re-establish its influence in the Middle East, albeit on a more pragmatic level than the ideology-driven deals made during the Cold War and one of the most effective ways of doing that is through arms sales.

Russia's defense deals with Iran and Syria have aroused considerable controversy, particularly with the United States and Israel, but they have made the point that Moscow is determined to be a player in the region, particularly as U.S. influence is widely seen to be waning.

El Khabar quoted Algerian defense officials as saying that "long delays" in U.S. arms deliveries was the primary reason behind the focus on Russian systems.

"The delay in the deliveries of modern weapons from the United States has prompted the defense ministry to defer plans to purchase new arms systems in the fight against terrorism," the daily reported.

U.S. political conditions on arms sales to Middle Eastern states and U.S. support for Israel also appear to have been factors in the reported Algerian decision.

El Khabar said the Algerians decided to scrap plans to buy AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships, presumably for use against Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida who are operating in Algeria, particularly in its southern desert regions. The AH-64, designed by Hughes, is manufactured by the Boeing Corp.

Instead, the defense ministry plans to acquire fourth-generation Russian attack helicopters, either the Mi-28 Havoc, which costs a quarter of the AH-64, or the Kaman Ka-Alligator Hokum 2.

The Algerian move coincides with a move to establish a joint counterinsurgency operation against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the jihadist group created in 2009 which seeks to integrate all Islamist militants in North Africa.

The Algerians, as the major military power in North Africa, have in recent months set up a joint headquarters with neighboring states to coordinate counterinsurgency operations across the region.

One of the main obstacles has been the lack of attack helicopters by these states to harass and pursue the insurgents across the desert wastes and transport aircraft for rapid deployment of ground forces.

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