Plans to make the algerian Army a professional fighting Force under Study

Plans to make the algerian Army a professional fighting Force under Study

Algeria Interface, 18 February 2000

A team of military and defence experts is currently examining the feasibility and implications of making the Algerian army a professional volunteer force rather than relying on massive conscription.

Algiers, 18/2/00 – A team from Algeria’s National Institute of Global Strategic Studies (INESG) is to draw up a report based on American and French experience in doing away with conscription to focus on professional volunteer armies.

The Algerian authorities believe that the American and French examples are those most likely to be of value to their plans for modernising the Algerian army. The US and France also provide useful comparative case studies in that that they responded at different times to different circumstances.

The US decided to phase out military service in favour of a professional army in the wake of the Vietnam War. The French decision was much more recent and is interesting in the light of its military interventions in Europe (Kosovo) and Africa (Rwanda).

Guerrilla warfare compels army to streamline
The hand-picked INESG team is, for the time being, working in the utmost confidentiality. It will submit its completed report to the Ministry of Defence which has its own team working on the same question in readiness for submitting a bill to parliament.

Whether there will be enough time for parliamentary debate depends on President Bouteflika’s political agenda and the legislative programme, particularly the likely revision of the 1995 constitution and the redrawing of administrative boundaries currently being drafted.

Interest in a professional army has been aired for over three years. Observers believe that it stems from the experience of fighting against Islamist guerrillas since 1993, which threw into relief the need for less unwieldy, more specialised troops.

The cumbersome chain of command came in for especially harsh criticism at the time of large-scale massacres between 1997 and 1998. Terrorists were able to mount sustained attacks on villages for hours at a time in the vicinity of military bases without troops intervening in any way.

Civil strife means conscription stays
The Algerian army long relied on close military ties with the Soviet Union which supplied it with huge quantities of arms and equipment, trained its officers and sent in instructors. The ex-Red Army is considered cumbersome by experts monitoring it in Chechnia. Yet it remains the model for the Algerian army whose admittedly large arsenal is rendered less effective by the emergence of new technology.

In recent months, the army and government have been turning increasingly to countries like South Africa, Poland and France to buy more efficient military hardware.

A stumbling block in the move to make the Algerian army a volunteer professional force is conscription, which does not square with new military and economic requirements. But attempts to reduce the length of military service have all failed because of the country’s dire internal security situation.

The Ministry of Defence continues to call up reservists and keep them on active duty in response to such emergency needs as elections and military offensives. They were out in force in readiness for January 13, the deadline for guerrillas to lay down their arms under the terms of the Civil Harmony Act.

Mourad Mentouri