BORN IN A BLOODY REVOLUTION from French colonial rule, Algeria became independent in 1962. The new nation was governed for more than twenty-five years by two military figures--Houari Boumediene from 1965 until 1978 and Chadli Benjedid from 1979 until early 1992. Although both presidents relied upon the armed forces for support, their regimes were by no means military dictatorships. The military, however, was heavily represented in the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale--FLN), the single party that controlled Algeria's socialist state until 1989. Nonetheless, under Boumediene and Benjedid civilian government institutions developed, and a multiparty parliamentary system emerged in 1989.
To avert a likely election victory by the Islamic party, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut--FIS), the minister of defense led a coup in January 1992 that brought down the civilian government, which was soon replaced by a High Council of State dominated by the military. In the course of 1992 and 1993, the army and the police were called upon to deal with armed uprisings by those groups who saw the military takeover as cheating the Islamic movement of its popular mandate. A crackdown against officials and organs of the FIS failed to bring an end to the violence, which resulted in 600 deaths among the security forces in the twelve months after the coup. Hundreds of civilians, including Islamic demonstrators and some foreigners, were also killed. The normal processes of government were paralyzed by the tense internal situation, and the army struggled to contain the uprising.
Security problems beyond the national borders, which had in the past motivated the government, aided by the Soviet Union, to buildup the military, had become less pressing by the early 1990s. Algeria's support for a nationalist insurgency in the Western Sahara had collided with Morocco's ambition to absorb the territory, but by 1993 the conflict seemed to be winding down. A cooperation treaty in 1989 among the Maghrib states, incorporating security clauses intended to prevent future military confrontation, reflected the more pacific climate prevailing in the region.
Algeria has a large and reasonably well-equipped military to counter foreign and domestic threats. The People's National Army (Armée Nationale Populaire--ANP) include ground forces, an air force, navy, and an air defense command. The National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale), a paramilitary body, is used mainly as a police force in rural areas. The army, in the process of being reorganized into four divisions in 1993, also has numerous independent brigades and battalions. Its antecedents were the conventional military units formed in Morocco and Tunisia during the War of Independence from France. In 1993 the air force was equipped with about 193 combat aircraft and fifty-eight armed helicopters. The navy consisted of a small fleet of frigates, corvettes, and missile craft, together with two modern submarines. Except for brief clashes with Morocco in 1976, the armed forces have not been involved in hostilities against a foreign power. Their combat capabilities in defense of the country has thus remained untested.
The arms and equipment initially supplied by the Soviet Union were of good quality, but some of the matériel had been in inventory for up to two decades. Earlier shipments were later supplemented by more modern tanks, armored vehicles, and missile launchers. Because of economic dislocation and a scarcity of foreign exchange, Algeria in the early 1990s postponed the acquisition of more modern equipment. Instead, it assigned priority to training and effective maintenance of existing weapons. More than half the army's personnel strength consisted of conscripts, some of whom were detailed to economic infrastructure projects after basic training. However, since Chadli Benjedid's introduction of market-oriented economic reforms in the late 1980s, the army has curtailed its involvement in construction, agricultural, and manufacturing activities.
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