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Government finds plenty to criticize in Algerian crisis response

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Reviewing its response to the Algerian hostage crisis last month, the government admitted Thursday it doesn’t have enough Arabic-speaking diplomats or military attaches in Africa, making it nearly impossible to gather sufficient intelligence.

According to a 19-page interim report, the embassy in Algeria — the largest African country in terms of area — was staffed with only 13 Japanese nationals and none of them speak Arabic, one of the country’s two official languages.

A group of foreign military attaches in Algeria exchanged intelligence during the hostage crisis, but Japan was left out because it had no military attaches there, the report says.

The only Self-Defense Forces attaches currently stationed on the African continent are in Egypt and Sudan.

Radiopress Inc., a government-linked foundation that monitors foreign broadcasts and publications 24 hours a day, was not monitoring the local Arabic-language media reports at the time of the hostage crisis.

This forced Arab experts in the Foreign Ministry to gather open information in the Arabic language while engaging in other work.

“It’s necessary to expand and strengthen systems to station military attaches,” the report says. “We need to strengthen systems to gather open information in the Arabian language.”

The report was drawn up by a government panel under Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

During the crisis at a natural gas plant in the Sahara desert, 10 Japanese working for Yokohama-based JCG Corp. were killed.

Various conflicting reports came out during the crisis and the Algerian government kept a tight lid on its own information. This left officials in Tokyo in confusion, which prompted Suga to launch the review panel.

When the panel ended its meeting Thursday, Suga said the prime minister’s office should be reformed to eliminate ministry sectionalism and integrate the government’s “command functions.”

He also urged the government to draw up a hostage-crisis management manual for staff in the prime minister’s office.

The government will launch another study panel Friday, this one consisting of outside experts who will submit a report by early May.

  • Smokey Snaps

    The embassy “was staffed with only 13 Japanese nationals and none of them speak Arabic” – I guess these Japanese had translators, though, and the embassy had Algerian staff. Still, the fact that *not one of the Japanese staff spoke Arabic* is pretty damning.

    • Christopher-trier

      Or, for that matter, Berber which is another defined national language.

  • Ben Jones

    “none of them speak Arabic, one of the country’s two official languages” – it’s the only official language (although Berber is a ‘national language’ it’s not ‘official’… and I bet none of the Japanese embassy staff spoke Berber).

    It’s not unusual or unreasonable for diplomats not to be fluent in the languages of every country they are posted to, and to rely on qualified interpreters & translators, but given the huge importance of the Arabic language in understanding local culture too, one would have hoped that they had at least a grounding.

    The US diplomatic and security services were similarly criticized following 9/11 for not having enough Arabic speakers, nor even subcontracted security-vetted Arabic translators/interpreters.