The Military and Boumediene

Algeria Table of Contents

The failure of the GPRA to assert its supremacy over the external army's general staff constituted a turning point in Algerian military development. Thereafter, the political power of the ANP was firmly established. Several groups--mostly former internal leaders and politically motivated enemies of Boumediene- -sought to preserve the Algerian armed forces' guerrilla traditions; they strongly opposed the creation of a strong, centralized military power under Boumediene's control. By contrast, according to Boumediene's philosophy, the security of a modern state required a well-equipped armed force trained and organized along conventional lines. The brief border war with Morocco in 1976, in which the conventional Moroccan army proved to be superior to the ANP, underscored the need to convert the ANP into a unified modern army.

The external forces were better organized, equipped, and trained and were not fractured by local wilaya loyalties as were the internal forces in the War of Independence. The internal guerrillas, who may have numbered no more than 25,000 at any one time, had, however, borne the brunt of the warfare. In addition, about 75,000 part-time irregulars carried out sabotage, acted as guides, supplied intelligence, and often took part in engagements near their own homes.

Boumediene vigorously undertook to reduce, consolidate, reorganize, and train the ANP's various elements. He purged most of the headstrong former guerrilla commanders. He retained professionals of the external army, as well as about 250 officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) with experience in the French army. The new ANP absorbed about 10,000 members of the internal guerrilla units; Boumediene discharged the rest, mostly Berbers. (OT 313; World Armies 10))

In spite of his association with Boumediene, Ben Bella moved to gain control of the army in a series of efforts aimed at reducing the power of the defense minister. The new constitution of 1963 assigned the powers of commander in chief to Ben Bella as head of state. Three weeks later, while Boumediene was in Moscow seeking arms, Ben Bella designated former wilaya leader Colonel Taher Zbiri as military chief of staff, further weakening the position of the minister of defense and the ANP. Boumediene met these threats by forging alliances with FLN leaders previously identified as his rivals. The coup d'tat of June 19, 1965, which brought Boumediene to power, demonstrated his success in that Zbiri personally arrested Ben Bella. )

Closely identified with the Boumediene government after the 1965 coup, the ANP exercised its influence through the country's supreme governing body, the Council of the Revolution. Of the council's twenty-six original members, twenty-two were military men with wartime or postwar service; twelve served at the time on the ANP general staff or as commanders of military regions.

In response to a failed coup attempt by chief of staff Zbiri at the end of 1967, Boumediene dissolved the general staff and solidified his control over the ANP by assuming personally many staff responsibilities. He excluded ANP leadership from day-to- day policy making but remained close to the army commanders whose support he needed to maintain political control.

Boumediene never considered himself a military professional, and he and his top aides never appeared publicly in uniform. He asserted that as a socialist state Algeria was not the instrument of a military regime or an officer caste. Nonetheless, the ANP was the best-organized and best-managed institution in the country, and many technically competent and experienced military personnel entered ministries and parastatal (partly governmentowned and partly privately owned) corporations as part of the national economic elite.

Military management also undertook local civic-action and economic development projects. This role gave regional military commanders powers of patronage that further boosted their political influence. The regional commanders became more influential in local affairs than the governors of wilayat, who served under the Ministry of Interior, Local Communities, and Tourism (hereafter Ministry of Interior). The wilayat governors also frequently had military backgrounds.

After Boumediene was incapacitated by a fatal illness in late 1978, the Council of the Revolution assumed day-to-day political power on an interim basis. Only eight members of the council remained from the original twenty-six. Five were colonels; they included Chadli Benjedid, who assumed responsibility for national defense matters. The nation's senior military officer, Benjedid was viewed as the ANP's candidate to replace Boumediene. He became president when the FLN Party Congress became deadlocked over two more prominent candidates.

Benjedid's Council of Ministers included strong ANP representation. Military men consistently made up half the membership of the FLN Political Bureau. Indeed, one observer described the FLN as a "screen" behind which the military exercised its influence as the real foundation of the regime. Many officers served in civilian posts; many observers believed, however, that their involvement in national decision making reflected Benjedid's confidence in their abilities and loyalty rather than an effort to impose direct military control.

The ANP's favorable image, based on its role in the War of Independence and in the creation of the postwar Algerian state, was badly tarnished by the ruthless way in which it suppressed the strikes and riots of "Black October" 1988. Troops deployed in the center of Algiers and other cities fired indiscriminately, with little regard for civilian casualties. Reacting to criticisms by human rights activists at home and abroad, Benjedid purged a number of military commanders and appointed younger, more professional officers with personal loyalty to him. Soon thereafter, all senior army officers resigned from the FLN Central Committee so as formally, if not actually, to distance themselves from civilian politics.

As the threat of Islamic militancy became more acute, the power of the army reemerged as the primary bulwark against religiously inspired violence. The role of the armed forces was legitimated by a four-month state of emergency declared after the May-June 1991 rioting. The military high command felt that the government's political liberalization measures and its lax attitude toward the Islamic threat were mistaken. When the first round of national election results of December 26, 1991, resulted in an overwhelming FIS victory, Benjedid was forced to resign as president. A five-member High Council of State soon assumed presidential powers. The council's only military representative was the minister of defense, Major General Khaled Nezzar, but the military exerted strong influence on the interim government. Troops and armored vehicles were deployed in the cities, military checkpoints were set up, and gatherings at mosques for political purposes were prohibited. The regime declared a one-year state of emergency, banned the FIS, and arrested thousands of its supporters. Convinced that the stability of the nation was at stake, the army clearly intended to crush the FIS. The militants' resort to terrorist attacks and the June 1992 assassination of Boudiaf, one of the original founders of the group that became the FLN, hardened the attitude of the military. Nezzar declared that the army would "conduct an implacable war until the total eradication of armed Islamic extremists who have soiled their hands with the blood of the defenders of order [is achieved]."

As 1992 drew to a close, the suppression of the Islamic political movement by the ANP and police appeared to be outwardly effective, although individual acts of violence continued. In spite of some desertions and arms thefts by sympathizers in the military, senior commanders asserted that the cohesion of the army was unaffected. The military leaders maintained that they had deemed it necessary to intervene only to head off an anarchic situation. Although the armed forces could have assumed power directly during the turmoil of 1992, they refrained from doing so. They continued to profess their intention of returning to their basic mission of providing for the defense and territorial integrity of the nation.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress