prepared for presentation by Monsieur Remy Mauduit, to the
dEtudes Stratégiques Aérospatiales, Ministère de la Defénse
lessons from the conduct of operations in the Algerian insurgency (1954-1962) provides
such a model in terms of geography and topography (physical dimensions, desert, plains,
mountain ranges); social make up (mainly Muslim population divided in three basic groups
hardly united in purpose as well as a small local elite collaborating with the occupier);
open borders allowing the influx of foreign support; attempts by the occupier to provide
greater local autonomy within a larger alliance; and a technologically advanced army
fighting militarily inferior forces resorting to terrorism and guerrilla tactics.
parallels with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are the reasons we are interested in the
Algerian war. Lessons, both in their positive and negative aspects, are as relevant today
as they were in the post-colonial era.
cases, a Western power with great technological advantages confronted an Arab insurgency
that relied heavily on urban terrorism but also maintained a rural guerrilla across the
country. And in both cases, the wars grew in unpopularity back home. Another striking
parallelJust as in Iraq five decades later, civil and military authorities did
not realize they were facing an embryonic insurgency, admittedly small in number in the
beginning but with the potential to degenerate into a widespread movement threatening the
very foundations of their power over the territory and facing the difficult adaptation of
their forces to the fight (It took the French more than 5 years to come up with the Plan Challe and about the same time for the U.S. to
come up with the Surge).
had proper planning been conducted in Washington and Tampa in preparation for Operation
Iraqi Freedom Phase IV, consideration of some key lessons from the Algerian insurgency
could have made an important difference. Events in Algeria demonstrated that policy
coordination and unity of command are the fundamental elements required at the strategic
level in order to be able to plan and execute a viable counterinsurgency campaign at the
operational level. The Algerian command was divided in the early years between a civilian
governeur général distrustful of the military leaders while the latter did not respect
the civilian administrator to stand up to the insurgents. Police raids in the cities and
military operations in the field were not coordinated and the fight against the insurgents
was limited to arresting or neutralizing the rebels without addressing the
larger cause of the war or seeking popular support for the French administration. This
phenomenon was reflected in 2003 in the convoluted command relationship between policy
makers in Washington, the theater commander in Qatar and then Tampa, the land forces
commander in Iraq and the successive civilian administrators Garner and Bremer.
War had many unusual features. Once
the various typical circumstances to that conflict are peeled away, the Algerian
insurgency provides valuable lessons, relevant to the conduct of counterinsurgency
operations in todays security environment. The Algerian experience might provide
some of the initial and very basic elements of a framework that could eventually lead to a
generic model for the conduct of counterinsurgency operations in the Greater Middle East
(defined as ranging from North Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula, to Iran) and the
Muslim world at large. In order to do so, it will be necessary to explore the Algerian
insurgency in depth by detailing the relevance of the conflict today and then exploring
the conduct of operations (both by the FLN and the French) in the field prior to drawing
pertinent lessons at the operational level.
1954, a group of young Algerians organized the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale). The FLN was a
liberation movement with no political or ideological affiliation. The long-term strategy
of the FLN was to build a counter-state and to organize guerrilla forces to wage an
offensive war against the French. The FLN was organized into six regional commands called Wilaya. On November 1st 1954 (the
Christian festival of All Saints Day), the FLN launched a military offensive to
drive out the French. But the initial attacks were a series of disjointed terrorist
attacks that, instead of inspiring panic and withdrawal, gave the French the impression
that they were dealing with a minor rebellion instead of the beginning of a peoples
war. Although the French had only a small military presence in Algeria at the time, they
managed to track down and kill several top leaders and disperse the insurgent bands.
its military weaknesses, the FLN resorted to political mass mobilization and a large-scale
terrorist campaign. By means of terror, the FLN ensured that there would be no neutrals in
the insurgency. Algerians would be forced to support the FLN and independence or else.
insurgency strengthened, the French Army took on the central role in pacification efforts
and by 1957 had largely supplanted the French civil administration in Algeria. In doing
so, the French Army developed a theory of counter-insurgency warfare, called La guerre révolutionnaire (Revolutionary
War) and an operational art concentrating on such measures as anti-infiltration barriers
(the Morice Line), the use of armed helicopters, psychological warfare, and the quadrillage (sectioning off the country and putting
it under military administration). Most importantly, the French Army sought to identify
and neutralize the insurgency cadres that formed the political center of
gravity of the insurgency. This task, which entailed detaining and interrogating thousands
of Algerians, proved to be a double-edged sword. Whatever success the Army had in
identifying the political cadres, the Armys methods provided the insurgents with an
informational weapon that was used to great effect against the French. Report of the use
of torture to extract information from Algerian detainees undermined Frances image
around the globe and among its allies, most notably the United States.
retrospect, the Algerian insurgency holds many lessons for us today. Whether or not the
French could have held on to Algeria by using a different strategy is open to debate. But
many scholars believe the French could have succeeded. Throughout the conflict, the French
Army achieved measurable success at the tactical level in terms of suppressing terrorist
activities in Algerian cities, interdicting foreign support by land and by sea, and in
crushing insurgency forces in the countryside in a series of well executed search
and destroy missions. But the absence of an overreaching political game plan,
tactical success did not translate to strategic success, and the French Government under
President Charles De Gaulle (President of the Fifth Republic, 1958-1969) elected to
negotiate a settlement with the insurgents. In short, the French Army won all the battles
but France lost the war.
ROLE OF AIRPOWER IN THE ALGERIAN COUNTER-INSURGENCYTHE PLAN CHALLE
military perspective and until the end of 1958, the counter-insurgency was virtually based
on the quadrillage system (a grid system),
mobile units and the air force for close air support, intelligence and reconnaissance. The
heavy Army presence in the quadrillage
demonstrated the French government determination to maintain Algeria French and helped
wavering Algerians decide against supporting the F.L.N. But occupying and holding ground
was tying up half the French armed forces and was very costly. This was a slow, expensive,
and inefficient way to fight an insurgency.
The Plan Challe was named after Air Force General
Maurice Challe, commander-in-chief of French forces in Algeria from 1958 to1960. The Plan Challe was an offensive plan that took the war
to the insurgents. The French relegated reserve and conscript units to static defense
roles, e.g., protecting roads, quadrillage, etc,
in order to free up regular units to conduct mobile search and destroy
missions in the mountains where guerrilla bands had taken refuge. Employing helicopters,
the French inserted special mobile units composed of elite troops such as Foreign
Legionnaires, paratroopers, marines, special commandos units, and airmobile regulars.
These elite forces never exceeded 20,000 troopers. Operationally, the Plan Challe comprised a series of sweeps against
known insurgent spots. Releasing troops from static quadrillage
duties, Challe broke down large formations into small units, many of which were mixed
Franco-Algerian in make-up, that could move quickly and bring the guerrillas to battle in
sophisticated operational and tactical scenario was virtually the same. Utilizing
primarily air-gathered intelligence and without warning, the elite units and the air force
move at tremendous speed on enemy territory. The strike usually takes place at dawn.
First, the target area is bombed out of existence and showered with cluster bombs from
fighter jets and bombers. Within few minutes, the paratroopers land in the heart of the
insurgent territory, close air support provided by armed helicopters. The elite force
engages immediately the insurgents while fighters, bombers, armed helicopters patrolled
the battle space and strafe or bomb any insurgents leaving the area. Additional troops are
brought in by helicopters to close the immediate net around the insurgents. A larger
contingent of regular troops and « Commandos de chasse » are convoyed to several spots
around the battle space to ambush and pursue the survivors. The aircrafts are relieved
when the area is under control by the elite troops and when the regular contingent is in
place. The command and control post (Joint Operations Command) is always shared by Air
Force and Army commanders. The operation is dismantled at sundown and the elite troops are
withdrawn leaving the local (secteur) regular
troop to finish the job and keep the area clean. It was devastating to the F.L.N., in
terms of lives and moral.
terrifyingly efficient and for the insurgents, it was hell on earth, believe me: I was at
the receiving end during two excessively long and horrifying months.
cleaning sweeps started from the most western part of the country and ended up at the
boundary with Tunisia. After each successful operation, more soldiers were taken from the
static quadrillage system and added to the Reserve générale since there was no more need for
a large defensive shield.
working relationships between Air Force and Army were the sine qua non conditions for the success of such a
plan. Joint planning, command and control were the names of the game.
were planned in details. Operational command and control were exercised by both Army and
Air Force commanders either in the same aircraft, or in the same ground command and
control post. If, for operational or tactical necessities, the commanders were not
together, the air commander would frequently take the lead. Conversely, on unplanned
missions, the Army commander takes control of participating airpower until the arrival of
an air officer.
Remy Mauduit is the editor of Air Universitys French Edition of the Air & Space
Power Journal. He has extensive personal
experience in irregular warfare specifically as part of the Algerian insurgency between
1954 and 1962. He is an accomplished
writer with several books to his credit and he is the subject of an upcoming French
television documentary on the Algerian insurgency. He
is a subject matter expert on insurgency and counterinsurgency at the Air Force Research
Institute, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
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