Although there have since been two political amnesties for participants in the Islamist insurgency, the eradicateurs still hold key counterterrorism posts in the Algerian military, some having been brought out of retirement as recently as last year, and eliminating terrorists is still the only Algerian government's only actionable policy. There was no question that it would not be deployed at In Amenas.
The heart of all Algerian policies is the preservation of the Algerian state -- maintaining the sanctity of its sovereignty, defending the viability of its economy, and ensuring the safety of its citizens, all with a vision not just to the day-to-day but to the longer run. By attacking the In Amenas facility, the militants struck at these core interests, provoking an overwhelming response from the Algerian government.
Algiers not only wanted to show unequivocally that it has a monopoly on the use of force, it was also obliged to protect the goose that lays its golden eggs. The hydrocarbon sector is the backbone of Algeria's economy, accounting for more than 95 percent of export earnings. Any attack on oil and gas facilities was thus not just an attack on the energy sector but on the country's basic well-being. Hydrocarbon revenues pays for subsidies on basic foodstuffs, fuel, and housing -- any reduction in earnings, therefore, could undermine social stability and political stability.
How Algeria responded to In Amenas was also not just an answer to the particular crisis, but was a signal for the future. If this attack was intended as a game changer, if it was intended to be a harbinger of future attacks, then Algeria had to send a clear signal that the new tactic that would not succeed.
Algeria fully recognizes that the world will criticize its response, but it will readily explain that the crisis was a direct result of foreign meddling in North Africa and the Sahel. The leadership in Algiers will tell their critics that they warned in 2011 that the NATO intervention in Libya would result in the collapse of the state, and that the flow of weapons out of Libya and into the hands of violent non-state actors could destabilize the region. Algiers also cautioned that any military approach to the instability in northern Mali was likely to only escalate the conflict and raise the likelihood of Islamist terrorist attacks in Algeria. Consequently, the international community is indirectly responsible for what transpired and is in no position to dictate how Algeria should have responded.
The Algerian government will feel that its previous stances are vindicated by the In Amenas attack, and as a result it will be harder for France and its allies, including the United States, to convince Algeria to support the campaign in Mali or broader French or U.S. strategic objectives in the region. If Washington too aggressively criticizes the Algerian response, it risks squandering a year's worth of unprecedented diplomatic outreach to Algiers.
Algeria's response to the conflicts to its east and south has already been to bunker down, enforcing the status quo through military force. That has led some to suggest that the Algerian government is paranoid about the forces of unrest wracking the region. But as the saying goes and In Amenas proves, "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me."