Military


Algerian National Liberation (1954-1962)

The Algerian war for independence began in 1954 and ended in 1962 when French President Charles De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3.

This war was one of the many wars for independence which occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. The movement for independence came from the Algerians' dissatisfaction with being treated as second-class citizens by the French colonial government. The revolution's philosophical foundations came from the privileged Algerians who were Gallicized by the French education system. However, these évolués (literally "the evolved") lost control of the movement for independence when the concessions they secured from the French government benefitted themselves.

In the period between Napoleon's downfall in 1815 and the revolution of 1830, the restored French monarchy was in crisis, and the dey (the governor of Algiers) was weak politically, economically, and militarily. The French monarch sought to reverse his domestic unpopularity through a successful military campaign. On the pretext of an insult to the French consul in Algiers by the dey in 1827, France blockaded Algiers for three years. France used the failure of the blockade as a reason for a conquest of Algiers in 1830, which was not technically completed until the early 1900s.

Algerian resentment of the French invaders was both widspread and well-founded. In 1909, for instance, Muslims, who made up almost 90 percent of the population but produced 20 percent of Algeria's income, paid 70 percent of direct taxes and 45 percent of the total taxes collected.

The first calls for Algerian autonomy came from upper class Algerians who could afford a Frnech education and who took inspiration from the Arab nationalism of the 1920s and 1930s.

The first organization to call for Algerian independence was the Star of North Africa (Étoile Nord-Africain, known as Star). The group was originally a solidarity group formed in 1926 in Paris to coordinate political activity among North African workers in France and to defend "the material, moral, and social interests of North African Muslims." The leaders included members of the French Communist Party and its labor confederation, and in the early years of the struggle for independence the party provided material and moral support. Ahmed Messali Hadj, the Star's secretary general, enunciated the groups demands in 1927. In addition to independence from France, the Star called for freedom of press and association, a parliament chosen through universal suffrage, confiscation of large estates, and the institution of Arabic schools. The Star was banned in 1929 and operated underground until 1934, when its newspaper reached a circulation of 43,500. Influenced by the Arab nationalist ideas of Lebanese Druze Shakib Arslan, Messali Hadj turned away from communist ideology to a more nationalist outlook, for which the French Communist Party attacked the Star. He returned to Algeria to organize urban workers and peasant farmers and in 1937 founded the Party of the Algerian People (Parti du Peuple Algérien--PPA) to mobilize the Algerian working class at home and in France to improve its situation through political action.

As the Islamic reformers gained popularity and influence, the colonial authorities responded in 1933 by refusing them permission to preach in official mosques. This move and similar ones sparked several years of sporadic religious unrest.

The mounting social, political, and economic crises in Algeria for the first time induced older and newly emerged classes of indigenous society to engage from 1933 to 1936 in numerous acts of political protest. The government responded with more restrictive laws governing public order and security.

During this time the outlawed PPA was creating secret political cells throughout the country and paramilitary groups in the Kabylie and the Constantine region. In addition, PPA supporters joined the Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty (Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté) in large numbers and attempted to promote Messali Hadj's independence concept in contrast to the more moderate autonomy advocates. Social unrest grew in the winter of 1944-45, fueled in part by a poor wheat harvest, shortages of manufactured goods, and severe unemployment.

On May Day, the AML organized demonstrations in twenty-one towns across the country, with marchers demanding independence for Algeria. Violence erupted in some locations, including Algiers and Oran, leaving many wounded and three dead.

Nationalist leaders were resolving to mark the approaching liberation of Europe with demonstrations calling for their own liberation, and it was clear that a clash with the authorities was imminent. The tensions between the Muslim and colonial communities exploded on May 8, 1945, V-E Day, in an outburst of such violence as to make their polarization complete, if not irreparable. Police had told AML organizers they could march in Sétif only if they did not display nationalist flags or placards. They ignored the warnings, the march began, and gunfire resulted in which a number of police and demonstrators were killed. Marchers rampaged, leading to the killing of 103 Europeans. Word spread to the countryside, and villagers attacked colonial settlements and government buildings.

The army and police responded by conducting a prolonged and systematic ratissage (literally, raking over) of suspected centers of dissidence. In addition, military airplanes and ships attacked Muslim population centers. According to official French figures, 1,500 Muslims died as a result of these countermeasures. Other estimates vary from 6,000 to as high as 45,000 killed.

The PPA continued to operate, but clandestinely, always striving for an independent, Arab, and Islamic Algeria. The clandestine Special Organization (Organisation Spéciale--OS) was created within the MTLD by Hocine Ait Ahmed in 1947 to conduct terrorist operations when political protest through legal channels was suppressed by authorities.

The sweeping victory of Messali Hadj's Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertes Democratiques--MTLD) in the 1947 municipal elections frightened the colons (colonials), whose political leaders, through fraud and intimidation, attempted to obtain a result more favorable to them in the following year's first Algerian Assembly voting. The term élection algérienne became a synonym for rigged election. The MTLD was allowed nine seats, Abbas's UDMA was given eight, and government-approved "independents" were awarded fifty-five seats. These results may have reassured some of the colons that the nationalists had been rejected by the Muslim community, but the elections suggested to many Muslims that a peaceful solution to Algeria's problems was not possible.

Ben Bella created a new underground action committee to replace the OS, which had been broken up by the French police in 1950. The new group, the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action (Comité Révolutionnaire d'Unité et d'Action--CRUA), was based in Cairo, where Ben Bella had fled in 1952. Known as the chefs historiques (historical chiefs), the group's nine original leaders--Ait Ahmed, Mohamed Boudiaf, Belkacem Krim, Rabah Bitat, Larbi Ben M'Hidi, Mourad Didouch, Moustafa Ben Boulaid, Mohamed Khider, and Ben Bella--were considered the leaders of the Algerian War of Independence.

Between March and October 1954, the CRUA organized a military network in Algeria comprising six military regions (referred to at the time as wilayat; sing., wilaya). The leaders of these regions and their followers became known as the "internals." Ben Bella, Khider, and Ait Ahmed formed the External Delegation in Cairo. Encouraged by Egypt's President Gamal Abdul Nasser (r. 1954-71), their role was to gain foreign support for the rebellion and to acquire arms, supplies, and funds for the wilaya commanders. In October the CRUA renamed itself the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale--FLN), which assumed responsibility for the political direction of the revolution. The National Liberation Army (Armée de Libération Nationale--ALN), the FLN's military arm, was to conduct the War of Independence within Algeria.

In the early morning hours of All Saints' Day, November 1, 1954, FLN maquisards (guerrillas) launched attacks in various parts of Algeria against military installations, police posts, warehouses, communications facilities, and public utilities. From Cairo, the FLN broadcast a proclamation calling on Muslims in Algeria to join in a national struggle for the "restoration of the Algerian state, sovereign, democratic, and social, within the framework of the principles of Islam." The French minister of interior, socialist François Mitterrand, responded sharply that "the only possible negotiation is war." It was the reaction of Premier Pierre Mendès-France, who only a few months before had completed the liquidation of France's empire in Indochina, that set the tone of French policy for the next five years. On November 12, he declared in the National Assembly: "One does not compromise when it comes to defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time, and they are irrevocably French . . . . Between them and metropolitan France there can be no conceivable secession."

In April 1956, Abbas flew to Cairo, where he formally joined the FLN. This action brought in many évolués who had supported the UDMA in the past. The AUMA also threw the full weight of its prestige behind the FLN. Bendjelloul and the prointegrationist moderates had already abandoned their efforts to mediate between the French and the rebels.

As the FLN campaign spread through the countryside, many European farmers in the interior sold their holdings and sought refuge in Algiers, where their cry for sterner countermeasures swelled. Colon vigilante units, whose unauthorized activities were conducted with the passive cooperation of police authorities, carried out ratonnades (literally, rat-hunts; synonymous with Arab-killings) against suspected FLN members of the Muslim community. The colons demanded the proclamation of a state of emergency, the proscription of all groups advocating separation from France, and the imposition of capital punishment for politically motivated crimes.

An important watershed in the War of Independence was the massacre of civilians by the FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955. Before this operation, FLN policy was to attack only military and government-related targets. The wilaya commander for the Constantine region, however, decided a drastic escalation was needed. The killing by the FLN and its supporters of 123 people, including old women and babies, shocked Soustelle into calling for more repressive measures against the rebels. The government claimed it killed 1,273 guerrillas in retaliation; according to the FLN, 12,000 Muslims perished in an orgy of bloodletting by the armed forces and police, as well as colon gangs. After Philippeville, all-out war began in Algeria.

In August-September 1956, the internal leadership of the FLN met to organize a formal policy-making body to synchronize the movement's political and military activities. The highest authority of the FLN was vested in the thirty-four-member National Council of the Algerian Revolution (Conseil National de la Révolution Algérienne--CNRA), within which the five-man Committee of Coordination and Enforcement (Comité de Coordination et d'Exécution--CCE) formed the executive. The externals, including Ben Bella, knew the conference was taking place but by chance or design on the part of the internals were unable to attend.

During 1956 and 1957, the ALN successfully applied hit-and- run tactics according to the classic canons of guerrilla warfare. Specializing in ambushes and night raids and avoiding direct contact with superior French firepower, the internal forces targeted army patrols, military encampments, police posts, and colon farms, mines, and factories, as well as transportation and communications facilities. Once an engagement was broken off, the guerrillas merged with the population in the countryside. Kidnapping was commonplace, as were the ritual murder and mutilation of captured French military, colons of both genders and every age, suspected collaborators, and traitors. At first, the revolutionary forces targeted only Muslim officials of the colonial regime; later, they coerced or killed even those civilians who simply refused to support them. Moreover, during the first two years of the conflict, the guerrillas killed about 6,000 Muslims and 1,000 Europeans.

Although successful in engendering an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty within both communities in Algeria, the revolutionaries' coercive tactics suggested that they had not as yet inspired the bulk of the Muslim people to revolt against French colonial rule. Gradually, however, the FLN/ALN gained control in certain sectors of the Aurès, the Kabylie, and other mountainous areas around Constantine and south of Algiers and Oran. In these places, the ALN established a simple but effective--although frequently temporary--military administration that was able to collect taxes and food and to recruit manpower. But it was never able to hold large fixed positions. Muslims all over the country also initiated underground social, judicial, and civil organizations, gradually building their own state.

To increase international and domestic French attention to their struggle, the FLN decided to bring the conflict to the cities and to call a nationwide general strike. The most notable manifestation of the new urban campaign was the Battle of Algiers, which began on September 30, 1956, when three women placed bombs at three sites including the downtown office of Air France. The ALN carried out an average of 800 shootings and bombings per month through the spring of 1957, resulting in many civilian casualties and inviting a crushing response from the authorities. The 1957 general strike, timed to coincide with the UN debate on Algeria, was imposed on Muslim workers and businesses. General Jacques Massu, who was instructed to use whatever methods were necessary to restore order in the city, frequently fought terrorism with acts of terrorism. Using paratroopers, he broke the strike and systematically destroyed the FLN infrastructure there. But the FLN had succeeded in showing its ability to strike at the heart of French Algeria and in rallying a mass response to its appeals among urban Muslims. Moreover, the publicity given the brutal methods used by the army to win the Battle of Algiers, including the widespread use of torture, cast doubt in France about its role in Algeria.

Despite complaints from the military command in Algiers, the French government was reluctant for many months to admit that the Algerian situation was out of control and that what was viewed officially as a pacification operation had developed into a major colonial war. By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria. Although the elite airborne units and the Foreign Legion received particular notoriety, approximately 170,000 of the regular French army troops in Algeria were Muslim Algerians, most of them volunteers. France also sent air force and naval units to the Algerian theater.

France also recruited and trained bands of loyal Muslim irregulars, known as harkis. Armed with shotguns and using guerrilla tactics similar to those of the ALN, the harkis, who eventually numbered about 150,000 volunteers, were an ideal instrument of counterinsurgency warfare.

Late in 1957, General Raoul Salan, commanding the French army in Algeria, instituted a system of quadrillage, dividing the country into sectors, each permanently garrisoned by troops responsible for suppressing rebel operations in their assigned territory. Salan's methods sharply reduced the instances of FLN terrorism but tied down a large number of troops in static defense. Salan also constructed a heavily patrolled system of barriers to limit infiltration from Tunisia and Morocco. The best known of these was the Morice Line (named for the French defense minister, André Morice), which consisted of an electrified fence, barbed wire, and mines over a 320-kilometer stretch of the Tunisian border.

The French army shifted its tactics at the end of 1958 from dependence on quadrillage to the use of mobile forces deployed on massive search-and-destroy missions against ALN strongholds. Within the next year, Salan's successor, General Maurice Challe, appeared to have suppressed major rebel resistance. But political developments had already overtaken the French army's successes.

De Gaulle immediately appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for France's Fifth Republic, which would be declared early the next year, with which Algeria would be associated but of which it would not form an integral part. Muslims, including women, were registered for the first time with Europeans on a common electoral roll to participate in a referendum to be held on the new constitution in September 1958.

FLN mounted a desperate campaign of terror in Algeria to intimidate Muslims into boycotting the referendum. Despite threats of reprisal, however, 80 percent of the Muslim electorate turned out to vote in September, and of these 96 percent approved the constitution. In February 1959, de Gaulle was elected president of the new Fifth Republic. He visited Constantine in October to announce a program to end the war and create an Algeria closely linked to France in which Europeans and Muslims would join as partners. De Gaulle's call on the rebel leaders to end hostilities and to participate in elections was met with adamant refusal.

Annually since 1955 the UN General Assembly had considered the Algerian question, and the FLN position was gaining support. France's seeming intransigence in settling a colonial war that tied down half the manpower of its armed forces was also a source of concern to its North American Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. In a September 1959 statement, de Gaulle dramatically reversed his stand and uttered the words "self-determination," which he envisioned as leading to majority rule in an Algeria formally associated with France.

Talks with the FLN reopened at Evian in May 1961; after several false starts, the French government decreed that a cease-fire would take effect on March 19, 1962. In their final form, the Evian Accords allowed the colons equal legal protection with Algerians over a threeyear period. These rights included respect for property, participation in public affairs, and a full range of civil and cultural rights. At the end of that period, however, Europeans would be obliged to become Algerian citizens or be classified as aliens with the attendant loss of rights. The French electorate approved the Evian Accords by an overwhelming 91 percent vote in a referendum held in June 1962.on June 17, 1962. In the same month, more than 350,000 colons left Algeria. Within a year, 1.4 million refugees, including almost the entire Jewish community and some pro-French Muslims, had joined the exodus to France. Fewer than 30,000 Europeans chose to remain.

On July 1, 1962, some 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots in the referendum on independence. The vote was nearly unanimous. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3. The Provisional Executive, however, proclaimed July 5, the 132d anniversary of the French entry into Algeria, as the day of national independence.



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