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Book Reviews

Pacification In Algeria 1956-1958

by David Galula

Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation Monograph Series, 2006
324 pages $US28.50
ISBN 978-0-8330-3920-0

Reviewed by Pierre Saint-Amant

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Book Cover: Pacification in Algeria 1965-1958Throughout the history of armies, counterinsurgency warfare has generally been greatly feared, and the drafting of counterinsurgency doctrine generally avoided. This is evident in the lack of any comprehensive approach to the subject, until recently, in virtually every army, including those that have had to deal with insurgencies on a regular basis. Since the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition, various approaches has been tried, and, only with the publishing in December 2006 of U.S. Field Manual 3-24, has a new comprehensive doctrine for counterinsurgency operations been established. This field manual, entitled simply Counterinsurgency, was penned under the supervision of General David Petreaus, an innovative American thinker, and, since January 2007, the Commander of Multinational Force Iraq. The inspiration for this field manual was a book written almost 50 years ago, after another coun-terinsurgency in another Muslim country. In 1963, at the urging of the RAND Corporation, Lieutenant Colonel David Galula, a French officer with extensive counterinsurgency experience, including two years in Algeria, wrote what was to become a personal account of his success in pacifying his area of responsibility.

Colonel Galula’s military career began in the renowned military college of St-Cyr, from which he graduated in 1940 as an infantry officer. He fought subsequently in North Africa, France, and Germany during the Second World War. In 1945, he was posted to the embassy in Beijing (then Peking), and witnessed firsthand the revolution that brought Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese communists to power. For Galula, the Chinese remained the masters of guerrilla strategies and tactics. He then served as a military observer under the UN Special Commission in the Balkans, where he witnessed insurgency during the Greek civil war. His next assignment, as military attaché to Hong Kong, allowed him to travel to French Indochina, the Malay Peninsula, and the Philippines – three additional locations where insurgencies were raging. Upon his return to France in 1956, he requested, and received, an assignment to Algeria as an infantry company commander.

The Algerian insurgency had begun some two years earlier, and the French Army was hampered by lack of direction from a succession of weak governments of the IVème République, as well as from countering long and costly insurgencies in Indochina, Morocco, and Tunisia. Internationally, both Arab and communist countries supported the rebellion, and much of the rest of the world was generally sympathetic to the rebels. They saw another colonial power trying to hold on to its empire against the general trend of resistance to empire that was expressing itself throughout the world.

Captain Galula was given command of a company in the rugged, densely populated mountains of Kabylia. The first part of the book, entitled The Stage, details the general situation and the establishment of his company in his area of operation, called a sous-quartier. Galula discusses the haphazard plans of both the rebels and the French, but avoids any discussion of the politics involved – except as it pertains to the situation ‘on the ground.’ The next part of the book, entitled The Struggle for the Control of the Population, details how he slowly, but systematically, rid the area of rebels, and then proceeded to normalize life in his sous-quartier. Going against accepted military doctrine, he split his company in order to have a presence in small villages and hamlets. By the end of this phase, his area of responsibility had been reasonably pacified. The third part of the book, entitled The Struggle for the Support of the Population, details how he established and fostered trust, and involved the population in the struggle against the insurgents. During this phase, the author initiated his own development program and organized local governments. Upon his subsequent promotion to major, Galula became a battalion deputy commander and relocated to a nearby zone, where the militaristic approach of the two former area commanders had not led to effective pacification. The first commander believed that he could defeat the rebellion through military action. The second commander did not believe that France would honour its commitments, and would ultimately ‘cut and run,’ leaving any supporters that he had made among the population earmarked for reprisals. In both cases, the French Army was occupying dominant but useless positions that controlled neither the terrain nor the population. In this new area, as was the case in most of Algeria, the army was caught in a vicious circle. Because of repeated military operations, the population was solidly against the French. And because of this attitude, the soldiers treated members of the population as enemies. The final part of the book constitutes Galula’s conclusions, wherein he lists the major factors he believes were involved in the Algerian War, and what he sees as the principles of counterinsurgency warfare.

At a time when most officers saw the conflict in classical warrior terms, Galula’s precept is that a political solution was necessary. He believed that the military is only a force to pacify and then secure a country, so that the general population can become involved in the political process, and a permanent political solution can be found. His main theory was that winning the support of the population was the objective of both the rebels and the army. Upon arriving in Algeria, Galula immediately put his theory into effect, and he endeavoured to separate the general population from the rebels. In order to do this, he knew that he must not alienate the population. His rule was, “...outwardly treat every civilian as a friend; inwardly you must consider him a rebel ally until you have positive proof to the contrary.” Galula took an intelligent and analytical look at counterinsurgency that was results-oriented. His ‘firm but fair’ approach avoided unnecessarily antagonizing the population. For Galula, once an area was pacified, he believed it had to be held and a military presence had to be maintained in order to prevent the return of insurgents. This approach led to his company being dispersed throughout his area of operations. However, the deployment of the company, and the lack of combat action needed once the area had been pacified, was, ironically, not seen for its worth by the high command. As in every army, the French failed to look at pacification as a success, placing as it did a premium upon body counts and combat.

The book is also a refreshing read, since it was written with a sense of humour and before the age of rampant political correctness. As an example, Galula’s harsh judgment of Islam would not be received favourably today. The book provides a different perspective on the war in Algeria. History is frequently written by left-leaning academics, adopting the view that all crimes committed by rebels during a war of independence are acceptable, since ends justify means. They may see a repressive colonial power seeking to hinder the rightful emancipation of a nation. However, this ‘black and white’ view does not do justice to the soldiers who fought for France, and who were generally men of honour. The rebels often ‘get a pass,’ although they were frequently common criminals and sadistic terrorists. Ironically, as these words are being written in December 2007, bombs are exploding in Algiers, a situation that would be difficult to blame upon French colonials. The vast majority of the Algerian population may have desired more autonomy, but few supported the rebels, who used terror to attempt to control the population. The 1958 Referendum clearly demonstrated that outright independence was not largely supported by any segment of the Algerian population. Another measure of the popularity of the rebellion is the number of recruits who entered the French armed forces. Of note, 100,000 Algerian Muslims had joined the French Army, not counting village self-defence forces, while rebel forces in 1958 numbered between 8000 and 9000. The book concludes with what Galula sees as the four laws of counterinsurgency warfare:

  • the objective is the population;

  • the support of the population must be organized;

  • the counterinsurgency itself must be seen as the ultimate victor; and

  • concentration of effort must be accomplished area by area.

For Galula, a counterinsurgency is never lost, due to the unpopularity of the suppressing regime. As a war goes on, the war itself, and, hence, the population’s security, becomes the central issue, and the ideological advantage of insurgents decreases.

Today, the Rand Corporation, in the hope that its lessons can be used in Iraq, has reissued Galula’s book. Fifty years after being written, it has become enthusiastically embraced by an army seeking a way out of a quandary brought on partially, I believe, by its overconfidence in high technology weaponry. One may hope that this signals a new openness to ideas and opinions penned outside of America. But the lesson of the author is that pacification requires a long-term commitment and imagination. For the author, every war is a special case requiring a unique strategy. And anyone who thinks that they found a ‘quick fix’ will have misunderstood David Galula’s lesson.

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Captain Pierre Saint-Amant is currently employed with the Director General Recruiting and Military Careers. He is also a part-time Master of Political Science student at the University of Ottawa.

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