Algeria Table of Contents

The People's National Army (Armée Nationale Populaire--ANP, known until 1962 as the Army of National Liberation--Armée de Libération Nationale--ALN) stems from a long military tradition in Algerian national life. Throughout their history, the peoples of North Africa have demonstrated a decided martial prowess, particularly when called upon to defend their independence. Berber tribesmen with a warlike reputation resisted the spread of Carthaginian and Roman colonization before the Christian era, and they struggled for more than a generation against the seventhcentury Arab invaders who spread Islam to North Africa by military conquests mounted as jihads, or holy wars.

Tension, crisis, resistance, dissidence, and revolution have characterized Algeria's development, at times pitting Berbers against Arabs and during other periods uniting them in opposition to a common enemy. The people of the central Maghrib have also, on occasion, fought on the side of their foreign rulers; during the 132 years of colonial domination, the French augmented their pacification forces with Algerian recruits. During World War I, about 173,000 Algerians conscripted into service with the French army fought with valor against the Germans; 25,000 of the Algerians were killed in combat. Algeria also supplied France with soldiers in World War II, providing the Free French with men in the Italian campaign. The experience contributed to a growing dissatisfaction with the French presence in Algeria that in 1954 erupted in the eight-year struggle for independence.

At a meeting in 1954, the revolutionary leaders laid down the structure of the ALN. The six military regions, known at that time as wilayat, were subdivided into zones, areas, and sectors. Tactical units were assigned, commanders appointed, and a system of military ranks adopted; the designation of colonel was fixed as the highest officer grade.

In 1957 a coordinated campaign of strikes and violence in the cities triggered a brutally effective counterinsurgency campaign by the French that broke down FLN and ALN organizations inside Algeria, particularly in urban areas. The military and civilian revolutionary leadership took sanctuary in Tunisia and Morocco, leaving the "internal ALN"--composed of guerrillas that operated under autonomous local commanders--to continue the fight against the French. Largely unassisted by the revolutionaries outside Algeria, these internal forces--with a strong Berber component-- suffered heavily. They were never completely destroyed, however, and their resistance succeeded in demoralizing the French, whose forces numbered 500,000 at their peak.

The regular ALN units, formed in Tunisia and Morocco with the tacit approval of the host countries, established bases near the Algeria border. Unlike the internal forces, the "external" ALN had a conventional organization and received training and modern equipment from sympathetic foreign sources. Although estimates of its size varied, a strength of 35,000 was claimed in 1960. Increasingly effective French measures to seal the borders hampered efforts to convey arms and supplies to the internal forces.

The external ALN was decisively defeated whenever it engaged the French directly. Nevertheless, it emerged as a central element among revolutionary forces, especially after the FLN leadership appointed Colonel Boumediene as ALN chief of staff in early 1960. Well before independence, regional factionalism and fierce personal rivalries raged among FLN internal and external military leaders and civilian politicians. Only six days before Algeria's formal independence on July 5, 1962, the civilian political faction controlling the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne--GPRA) dismissed Boumediene and the rest of the general staff. Boumediene rejected their authority and instead supported the candidacy of Ben Bella, one of the "historic chiefs" of the War of Independence, against the GPRA. Boumediene led contingents of the external ALN and friendly guerrillas eastward to Algiers, overcoming resistance from other internal guerrilla leaders who felt that they had earned the right to shape the course of the revolution. Joining Ben Bella in the capital, Boumediene became minister of defense in the government formed in September 1962.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress