More to Consider: A Commission, Retirement, and Shuffles

On 30 November this blogger observed that ‘New “data points” will probably emerge by the end of December or later, adding to the mix,’ referring to changes and reforms in Algeria’s security sector. During the summer rumours circulated that changes would be announced regarding the security forces at the wilaya and region level, for the national police, and military. Several of these were announced or intimated in press reports during the last two months.

On 01 December Tout Sur Algerie published a piece stating that PM Sellal intends to form a civilian-military commission to review military promotions and retirements.

Elle aura pour mission d’étudier et d’avaliser les propositions de mise à la retraite ou de promotions d’officiers supérieurs de l’armée nationale, ont précisé nos sources.

Concrètement, le général de corps d’armée Ahmed Gaid Salah, vice-ministre de la Défense nationale, fera des propositions concernant le sort de hauts officiers de l’armée (promotion, mise à la retraite, etc.). La commission se prononcera sur chaque cas, avant de les soumettre au président de la République pour validation définitive. « Le dernier mot reviendra au chef de l’État », soulignent nos sources.

The article mentions only Sellal and Gaid Saleh by name and intimates that the commission will submit recommendations to the President, possibly leading to the retirement of ‘influential generals.’ El Watan has since reported that the committee and other crucial issues related to the military have been handled by Prime Ministry Sellal in particular; he has taken charge of ‘all management actions’ on behalf of the President. The El Watan article seems to suggest that Gaid Saleh may be among those impacted by the commission, or that the changes in the military-intelligence services have been meant to weaken the military’s political power on the whole rather than in specific instances.

Algeria’s high command has been dominated by men above the mandatory requirement age instituted in the early 2000s (a irreverent quip circulated around by some Algerians involves Algeria holding the record for the world’s oldest serving soldier, Gaid Saleh), and so this goes back to an agenda item prominent since the beginning of the Bouteflika era – rejuvenation. This was originally intended to produce a younger and innovative leadership cadre across state and parastatal institutions as well as the FLN, RND and other parties – all of which had been dominated by men of the revolutionary generation (and some of which continue to be) when Boueflika took office. The promotion of new generals and managers in the military and political parties was part of this campaign, as were the President’s frequent comments that the revolutionary generation’s time had passed and that it was time for youth to lead the country. This provided an excellent frame through which to announce the retirement of adversarial generals and the promotion of younger officers, bolstering the President’s hand. The El Watan article seems to suggest that Gaid Saleh may be among those on the way out, or that the changes in the military-intelligence services have been meant to weaken the military’s political power on the whole rather than in specific instances. Factions attempted to use this environment to boost their own protégés to push along in proxy battles (see the 2004 presidential election). More movement in the military in this context can been in the promotions (following the televised meetings between Bouteflika and Gaid Saleh) of colonels to the rank of general, and the reshuffling or promotion of some top region commanders (all generals with past experience during the Civil War or later). These also come in a context of deteriorating regional security: public reporting on the move of Maj. Gen. Amar Athamnia to the Fifth Military Region (Constantine) near the Tunisian border allegedly has to with his experience in elite units needed to assist in suppressing increasing militant activity along the Tunisian-Algerian border. Ben Ali Ben Ali was reportedly promoted and given (or was asked to take) a new post of Inspector General of the ANP. Little else on these issues have been reported; all current reports on appoints at the military region level are incomplete. Also note that it is rumoured/confirmed that the Algerian Ministry of Defense has an intention of creating a seventh military region centred in Illizi, a response to the In Amenas incident; if readers can confirm or provide additional information on this development, they are encouraged to email this blogger at the email address provided on the “About this Blog” page on the menu bar.)

TSA‘s 01 December piece further states that the DRS no longer has responsibilities for monitoring ‘legal political parties and the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK),’ a Kabyle opposition party. The specific mention of the MAK as opposed to other parties is curious and requires noting.

It is difficult to believe that the Presidential clan would move to dismantle the DRS, its chief institutional rival since the first term, without engaging in deeper coup-proofing before hand or simultaneously. It is also difficult to assume that the DRS or others would not react to such manoeuvres unless it had been defanged early or by some particularly bad way.  Since there is not an official announcement of changes made at the military region level and it is not entirely clear what relations this one or that one have to political camps or interests. At least one account of the In Amenas crisis (related by Habib Souaidia) points to significant quarrels between general officers at the operational level; whether this account is reliable or not is for readers to discern. Such trouble could lead to reorganisation at an opportune time regardless of wider system changes. And even still, it could well be the case that these widely publicised changes in the DRS are to be followed by mutual roll back of the Bouteflika’s power base in the military, via the commission mentioned above, part of some wider compromise. One still shrugs and waits to find out more. Others will walk off asking, ‘So what?’

NOTE:

The dispatching of men with warrior histories (and the announcements, which come with mentions of their backing ground in airborne, special forces units and fighting terrorists in the south) to the regions bordering Tunisia and Libya is likely to reinforce Tunisian and Algerian cooperation built up since last year at least. Numerous visits by Tunisian officers to Algiers (and of Algerians to Tunis) point to growing military-military cooperation focused on coordinating border patrols, intelligence sharing and other operations aimed at jihadist militants linked to AQIM and Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia on both sides of the border, especially in Kasserine, El Kef, and Jendouba. This can be seen in the number of stories in El Djeich mentioning Tunisia, almost always in the context of visits by Tunisian military delegations or articles on the NATO 5+5 Initiative in which both countries participate; other articles involve articles on Algerian military history focusing on combat and operations on the Algeria-Tunisia frontier (which close reading might have some meaning in contemporary context given the journal’s audience). From the end of 2012 through 2013, visits by Tunisian military delegations began to increase noticeably; perhaps predictably visits from Tunisia more commonly reported than visits from any other Arab or Maghreb country except Mauritania (given Algerian relations with Morocco and Libya’s formal military not being much of anything at all; mentions of Morocco are mostly in passing and in relation to NATO exercises). A chart for mentions of Tunisia by quarter is below (note that Q3 2013 is not yet over so this is incomplete): 

TNMON

In 2012 many of these mentions are in relation to cooperation between military information and ‘museology’ and ‘heritage’ departments that produce defense journals and history materials; others were in relation to events on the Algerian-Tunisian frontier during the war of independence. A large Tunisian delegation visited Algiers in December 2012, including the then head of government, Chief of Staff of the Armed forces and others; the Tunisian Amabassador also held a meeting with then effective Minister of Defense Abdelmalek Guenaizia. 2013 saw multiple bilateral meetings, which were often reported elsewhere as involving discussion on coordinating operations and intelligence gathering, joint committees and even training all more or less in the context of the Jebel Chaambi crisis. Publicly the Algerians have been emphatic on their desire to not extent such cooperation to activity on Tunisian soil (consistent with Algerian refusal to intervene in Mali, and other places and strenuous denials of having conducted a raid on Libyan territory as reported in Le Canard Enchainé months back), Mourad Medelci going as far as to say ‘military cooperation has red lines’ when pressed on the issue; these talks predictably also overlapped with reporting and speculation of Algerian involvement in penetrating Tunisian Islamist groups or seeking to undermine Ennahdah. And they continued as Bouteflika undertook mediation between Tunisia’s fussy government and opposition, allegedly helping to ward off some itching for a coup in the Egyptian style in the opposition. Tunisia’s leaders are likely wary of being seen as close to Algeria’s un-revolutionary regime, with a history of putting down Islamists (some of whom their leadership was cosy with in London) and with whom there has been a lack of deep contact and trust at certain levels of the military in the past. Algeria’s smaller neighbours generally seem to have similar anxieties about Algeria’s size, history and intentions, though the Tunisians and Libyans differ in that they have histories of disputed borders and fear Algerian encroachment (they do not want Algerian activity on their soil) as much as deliberate subversion (though Libyans seem to harbour greater suspicion and hostility toward Algeria than anyone else outside Morocco, since Algiers gave asylum to Qadhafi family members and allegedly backed up the old regime) where some others seem to fear the Algerians’ refusal to take an offensive posture into other countries territories represents some kind of intent to subvert them by negligence (western and Sahelian leaders have frequently attempted to convince Algeria to ‘intervene’ in Mali or take a posture close to such a move without success; the suspicion that this represents ill intentions can be found in Anouar Boukhars’s October 2012 paper which explains regional and international criticism of Algeria’s desire to keep itself out of its neighbours’ catastrophes; see also this post on this blog from earlier this year critiquing some of those sentiments as expressed in public writing, which like so much writing in favour of interventions was reluctant to ask: What happens next? Especially in regards to specific actors: Would an intervention by Algeria, however it looked like, have been at all similar to what happened if done by France or some other country? What would the consequences of using Algerian military power outside its borders be for Algeria inside Algeria?) The internal situation in Algeria seems to lend itself less toward expeditionary moves into neighbouring countries than to holding down the fort at home, while trying to convince, and maybe train, others to do do the same peaceably or otherwise. 

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