Algeria - Ministry of National Defense
Algeria's armed forces are known collectively as the People's National Army (ANP). The president serves as Minister of National Defense. Algeria is a leading military power in the region and has demonstrated success in its struggle against terrorism. The Algerian military, having fought a decade-long insurgency, has increased expenditures in an effort to modernize and return to a more traditional defense role. Algeria's military, paramilitary, and police forces are more concerned about an internal threat from Islamic extremists than a definable external threat. The military is attempting to control the internal threat through operational and surveillance activities. Russia has supplied most of the military's equipment.
The armed forces consist of four branches: the army, the navy, the air force, and air defense. They are augmented by the National Gendarmerie, which comes under the Ministry of Interior. According to The Military Balance, 1993-1994, the total strength of the active armed forces in late 1993 was 121,700, including the army, 105,000; the navy, 6,700; and the air force, 10,000. Air defense manning levels are not known but one source estimates them as 4,000, included within the air force complement. The number of reserves is listed at 150,000, but their state of readiness is not known. By 2008 Algeria's active-duty military consisted of 120,000 in the army (including 75,000 conscripts), 7,500 in the navy and coast guard, and 10,000 in the air force. In addition to active-duty personnel, Algeria has about 150,000 military reserves assigned to the army. Military forces are supplemented by a 60,000-member national gendarmerie, under the control of the president; a rural police force, "communal guard corps," under the authority of provincial governors (who answer to the Ministry of Interior); and a 30,000-member Sureté Nationale or Metropolitan Police force under the Ministry of Interior.
Under the constitution, the president is supreme commander of all the armed forces and is responsible for national defense. When Boumediene deposed Ben Bella in 1965, he eliminated the national defense portfolio to reinforce his own control over the ANP. In July 1990, Benjedid revived the position, appointing Nezzar to head the ministry. Nezzar had been chief of staff since he replaced Major General Abdallah Belhouchet in 1988. Belhouchet, who until that time had been considered the most important military figure after Benjedid, was dismissed as part of the wholesale removal of senior officers after the 1988 riots. After Benjedid's resignation as president in early 1992 and Nezzar's appointment as sole military representative on the High Council of State, the interim governing body, Nezzar was seen as the strong man of the regime.
Under the constitution, the head of state can turn for advice on national security matters to the High Security Council, which along with the Council of Ministers, is required to give its consent to the declaration of a state of emergency in the event the country faces imminent danger to its institutions, its independence, or its territorial integrity. The High Security Council must also be heard prior to a declaration of war by the president. The security council's members include the prime minister, the minister of national defense, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of interior (an army officer), and the minister of justice. Upon Benjedid's resignation, the High Security Council assembled to cancel the second round of the general election and created the High Council of State to exercise interim presidential powers.
During the 1980s, Benjedid took a number of measures to reorganize the military high command so as to enhance the ANP's efficiency and military effectiveness. In 1984, after promoting eight colonels to become the first generals in independent Algeria, Benjedid announced the establishment of an ANP general staff. Previously, the armed forces had relied on the secretary general of the Ministry of National Defense to coordinate staff activities. The previous secretary general of the ministry, Major General Mustafa Benloucif, was named the first chief of staff. Benloucif had risen quickly in the ANP and was also an alternate member of the FLN Political Bureau. However, he was dismissed in 1986 without explanation; in 1992 the regime announced that Benloucif would be tried for corruption and the embezzlement of US$11 million, which had been transferred to European accounts.
The general staff had responsibility for operational planning for the integrated armed forces, budgeting, information and communications, logistics and administrative support, mobilization, and recruiting. It was not, however, part of the regular chain of command. In practice, the armed forces chief of staff dealt directly with the chiefs of the service branches and with the commanders of the six military regions.
Due to historical difficulties in acquiring U.S. military equipment, Algeria's primary military supplier has traditionally been Russia and, to a lesser extent, China; in 2007 and 2008, Algeria made large purchases of advanced weaponry from Russia. In recent years, however, Algeria has begun to diversify its supplies of military equipment to include U.S.-made ISR aircraft and ground radars purchased through direct commercial sales.
The military institution has always been a powerful player in Algerian politics. It has also been known for most of its existence as the ''La Grande Muette'' (the Big Mute) because it communicated very little its views in the public arena. However, in the last few years, several high officers-retired or in office-started speaking out about past and present policies and events. Officially, the military establishment is committed to a democratic project and a republican form of government. In the 2004 presidential election, the military, for the first time, publicly stated that they would play no role in choosing the next president. In a sense, that meant that their crucial support would not be extended to Bouteflika's re-election. This decision was probably due to a political showdown between him and them over the president's constitutional prerogatives, and his decision to authorize international organizations to investigate civilian massacres that the army allegedly could have prevented, but failed to so. Because he was not explicitly endorsed or supported by the military, Bouteflika had to fight hard for his own re-election, which he won with a wide margin against an unorganized and divided opposition, which did not have access to the state resources and to the radio and television-both state-owned-which he had.
The supremacy of the military in political and economic affairs seems to have been reduced after the resignation in August 2004 of the top military leader, General Mohamed Lamari. This resignation may have ushered in a transfer of more actual power to the civilian presidential institution, and the beginning of a slow professionalization of the military establishment. With the improved security situation, the army began to acknowledge that it should end its political dominance and let the civilian leadership more latitude, while remaining the guardian of the republican order. When that become a full and tangible reality, Algeria would have made a major step toward a genuine change.
The military remains a powerful actor in Algeria's political and economic systems, but there are many signs today that it is moving eagerly toward professionalization and away from blatant interference with the political and economic systems of the country. Its increasing interaction with the US and NATO military may be helping this tendency.
By 2007 the army was no longer as unified as it had been even a few years ago. Two splits were emerging. The first is among younger officers who know Algeria is not well and blame the old guard for neglect and mismanagement. These officers want change and feel an increasing sense of urgency that the country is adrift. The second split lies within the senior ranks of the military, between officers who favor a tougher approach to security and counter-terrorism (the "eradicateurs") and those still aligned with Bouteflika's national reconciliation policy. There were colonels in the Algerian military who think the current drift cannot continue. The question is whether they can organize themselves.
Despite the apparent political stagnation, by 2014 there were serious on-going discussions between the opposition and elements from the military and security services over how to draft a democratic, inclusive constitution that would define the ultimate role of the military and outline a transition to democracy. The key to reform is the army. But before any reform occurs Algeria’s political leaders will have to define a new role for the military. The real holder of power is the army, so it is natural to envision an important role in supporting a gradual transition toward democracy and that requires a change in the nature of the military-civilian relationship. A key reform would be for the military to be under civilian authority and oversight.
In mid-July 2018, the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP, Algeria's Islamic party) appealed to the chief of staff of the Algerian Army Army (ANP) and deputy minister of defence, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah, to help "resolve the country's crisis" and make way for a "democratic transition". This was criticised widely, given the army’s coup d’etat against the Islamic coalition victory in 1993, triggering a bloody civil war throughout the country that is still referred to as “The Black Decade”.
The 2018 purge of Algeria's military leadership came as many are driven to wonder whether the moves came from Algeria's absent president or his brother. Political developments in Algeria - namely, important changes among top military officials and calls for a military-backed political “transition” - have converged around the role of the army.
In late August 2018, four of Algeria's six regional military commanders were dismissed, a move that came after the sacking of the military police chief and five of the gendarmerie’s six regional commanders. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika fired both Ground Forces Commander, Major General Ahsan Tafer and Air Force Commander Major General Abdelkader Lounas, following a far-reaching purge in July 2018 that brought about the removal of the country's most important military and security leaders.
The ailing President went on to appoint Major-General Abdelhamid Ghriss as Secretary General of the Ministry of National Defence. Director General of National Security, Colonel Mustapha Lahbiri also replaced the current security administration at Algiers Houari Boumediene Airport.
Algeria’s political decision-making remains opaque however, given that the ousting of Abdelghani Hamel, police chief and formerly part of the presidential clique was followed by the arrest of Major General Menad Nouba eight days later, who had been responsible for arresting him initially.Major General Saeed Bay, former commander of the Second Military Region, escaped the country with his family for France on 11 September 2018, despite a travel restriction.
The country’s powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah died 23 December 2019, at a time of bitter political divisions over the military's dominant role in the major energy exporter. Algerian government radio said he died in the military hospital of Algiers after a heart attack. Algerian media reports said Gaid Salah was 79 years old. Salah was seen as the main power broker in Algeria, especially since a pro-democracy movement with his backing pushed out the country's longtime former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019.
His death came less than a week after Abdelmadjid Tebboune was sworn in as the country’s new president, on December 19. Gaid Salah was present at Tebboune’s inauguration and was considered to be close to the leader. Tebboune declared an exceptional full week of mourning, in an indication of Gaid Salah's importance.
Africa's largest country had been riven by mass protests since February 2019 demanding a wholesale change in the ruling elite, including that the army step back from politics. News of Salah's death, however, may not signify major changes to Algeria's economic and political policies, as the country’s strongman had plenty of potential successors in an armed forces that has remained united over the handling of the protests.
The authorities had so far rejected any systematic attempt to crush the protests with violence, allowing them to continue each week but stepping up the police presence in recent months and detaining many demonstrators. "He kept his promise to save the blood of Algerians during a tough period," Islam Benatia, a prominent figure in the protest movement, said.
The army's central role in Algerian politics was underlined when Tebboune's first act after being sworn in was to embrace Gaid Salah and present him with an order of merit. As chief of Algeria's military for a record 15 years and a veteran of Algeria's war for independence, the general was seen as the guardian of the military-dominated system that had been in power since. The strongman had supported Bouteflika for years until the president's February announcement that he would run for re-election sparked unprecedented demonstrations.
In early April 2019, Gaid Salah called on his boss to resign. Bouteflika quit the same day, leaving the armed forces chief effectively in charge of the North African country. The army then backed a series of arrests of Bouteflika allies and senior businessmen in an anti-corruption campaign that was widely seen as a purge of the military's rivals within the ruling system. But it was not enough to appease the protesters, many of whom had begun calling for Gaed Salah's resignation. One constant chant throughout the protests has been for "A civilian state, not a military state".
Salah defied protesters by pressing on with a presidential vote on December 12. Demonstrators opposed the vote and official figures showed only 40 percent of the electorate cast ballots. The army chief had categorially rejected the youth-led protest movement's key demands: deep reforms, the establishment of transitional institutions and the dismantling of the military-dominated regime. President Tebboune announced that the head of land forces, General Said Chengriha, would take over as acting chief of staff of the armed forces. Gaid Salah's funeral will take place on Tuesday, a day on which students have been staging weekly protests for much of the year.
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