Foreign Military Assistance

Foreign Military Assistance

In spite of periodic reports that Algeria was negotiating with European manufacturers to produce weapons systems under license, the country continues to depend heavily on outsiders to supply the ANP. From independence through the 1980s, Algeria's most important supplier remained the Soviet Union. It was estimated that nearly 90 percent of the equipment in the ANP inventory in 1993 was of Soviet origin. Algerian leaders have frequently stated their desire to diversify their sources of arms and to obtain access to up-to-date Western equipment, but the country's straitened economic circumstances have precluded a major shift to purchases from the West.

At independence the newly created ANP was using equipment from various sources. Some small arms had been delivered to the ALN during the war from China, Egypt, and other countries. The new force also benefited from some military supplies turned over by the French forces as they left the country and from Egypt's assistance to the air unit. Overall, however, the military was very poorly equipped; it lacked the heavy weapons associated with a modern military establishment.

Overtures to Western nations by Ben Bella and Boumediene resulted in lukewarm responses or, at best, offers on terms the Algerians considered too stringent. The French government of Charles de Gaulle, in particular, was reluctant to supply heavy items on concessional terms to the country it had so recently fought. The Soviet Union extended Algeria its first military credit, equivalent to about US$100 million, following an urgent visit by Boumediene to Moscow in late 1963 after a setback in the border war with Morocco. Soviet heavy arms and equipment soon began flowing into the country. After the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Soviet Union stepped up arms deliveries and extended additional credits. Moroccan moves to annex the Western Sahara apparently provided a catalyst for further arms purchases. In 1980 the Soviet Union agreed to deliver an estimated US$3.5 billion in arms through 1985. Another agreement was signed in 1986 for a further US$2 billion in arms. These sales were on a credit basis highly favorable to Algeria, with repayment over an extended period at low interest rates. Nevertheless, Algeria was unwilling to enter into a close military relationship with the Soviet Union. It refused the Soviet Union basing rights at the large naval installation at Mers el Kebir, which the French had handed over in 1968, and the holding of joint military exercises.

Algeria received some of the most modern Soviet-made arms during the 1975 to 1985 period. The ANP was one of the first armies outside Eastern Europe to be equipped with the T-72 tank. It also received the BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle, MiG-23 and MiG-25 fighter aircraft, Mi-24 attack helicopters, modern rapid-firing artillery, and SA-2 and SA-3 air defense missiles. Although these were the "export" versions of various models, which lacked the capabilities of those in first-line Soviet units, they represented high-quality weaponry.

The Soviet Union also provided extensive training to ANP personnel. Between late 1963 and 1985, more than 3,500 officers and enlisted personnel received technical instruction in the Soviet Union. The number of Soviet military advisers assigned to Algeria to train and guide ANP personnel in the use of Soviet equipment as well as in tactical operations is estimated to have reached a high of 3,000, although by 1993 the number of Russians had fallen below 500.

During the 1980s, Algerian officials evinced a growing interest in ending the Soviet Union's almost complete monopoly in the sale of arms. The Benjedid government sought to practice strict nonalignment in its relations with the superpowers. The Algerians were impressed by the superior performance of Western equipment used by the Israelis during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and by the more comprehensive training and support packages Western suppliers provided to their customers. Nonetheless, few negotiations with Western countries were actually consummated, presumably because of Algeria's tight budgetary and foreign-exchange limitations.

Available data reflected the continued predominance of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as sources of weaponry. According to ACDA, of a total of US$3,820 million in arms imports during the period 1981 to 1985, about US$3,200 million originated in the Soviet Union, US$170 million in the United States (primarily C- 130 transport aircraft), US$100 million in France, US$160 million in Britain, and US$160 million in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). During the period 1985 to 1989, Algerian arms imports totaled US$3,260 million, of which US$2,700 million originated in the Soviet Union, US$430 million in other East European nations, US$50 million in the United States, US$40 million in Britain, and US$20 million in France. Deliveries reached a peak of US$1,400 million in 1981, representing 12.4 percent of all imports. By 1989 arms deliveries were down to US$600 million, only 6.8 percent of total imports and continued to full sharply in 1990 and 1991.

Under a set of agreements signed in 1963 and 1967, French military advisers maintained a permanent presence in Algeria after independence. A number of places at the French military academy at St. Cyr and the French gendarmerie school at Melun were allotted to Algerians. In 1969 about 340 French officers and NCOs were detached to work with the training services of the ANP. Relations chilled, however, after France escalated its military support for Morocco during the Western Sahara conflict; by 1981 only about twenty French advisers remained in Algeria.

The administration of the socialist François Mitterrand, who was elected president of France in 1981, was thought to be more attuned to Algerian interests than previous French governments had been. The French government increased the number of places in French military schools for Algerian cadets and extended additional credits. Algeria bought Panhard armored personnel carriers for the gendarmerie and Milan antitank missiles, but more extensive purchases, notably a national command-and-control radar network, failed to materialize.

From independence through the early 1980s, the ANP had purchased relatively small amounts of less sensitive military equipment from the United States such as several executive transport aircraft and unarmed primary trainers. Beginning in 1981, as part of a rapprochement that was kindled by Algeria's role as an intermediary in the release of the American hostages in Iran, Algerian requests for more sensitive military equipment were reviewed more favorably. In addition to the Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft, the United States furnished telecommunications equipment and military trucks during this period.

All of these sales were conducted on a commercial basis, and all of the equipment was classified as nonlethal. During Benjedid's 1985 visit to the United States, however, Washington approved Algeria's eligibility to purchase general defense equipment under the conditions of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Algerian arms requests were examined on a case-by- case basis. Direct purchases under FMS were minimal. They amounted to only US$2.2 million in fiscal year (FY) 1991 and were estimated to reach only $1 million in FY 1992 and FY 1993, although commercial transactions were somewhat larger. Since 1985, the United States Department of Defense has provided a small annual grant under the International Military Education and Training Program to provide professional military development courses and technical training for Algerian officers in leadership positions or deemed to be potential leaders.

Algeria purchased two tank landing ships from Britain in the early 1980s. In addition, the British undertook a joint project with the Algerian navy for the delivery of twelve fast-attack craft armed with Italian Otomat missiles. The first two of the attack craft were built in Britain, and ten others were built or assembled at the Mers el Kebir shipyard with British technical assistance.

Algeria has purchased some patrol craft from China, but there has been little other evidence of military cooperation between the two countries since the War of Independence. In 1991 it was disclosed that the Chinese were assisting in the construction of a nuclear reactor at Ain Oussera, about 140 kilometers south of Algiers. Subsequent reports stated that Iraq had sent scientists and some uranium to Algeria. Algerians asserted that the reactor was intended to produce only radioactive isotopes for medical research and to generate electric power. However, the secrecy surrounding the program, which had been initiated in 1986, raised suspicions. Algeria is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, having rejected it on the principle that Algeria should not have to renounce a nuclear weapons program when other nations could continue with theirs. Algeria subsequently agreed to inspection of the site by the International Atomic Energy Agency.


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