Algerian Defense Minister General Khalid Nezzar: Memoirs

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Algerian Defense Minister General Khalid Nezzar: Memoirs

General Khalid Nezzar is a controversial figure in Algerian politics. To some he saved the nation from sliding into the abyss of religious radical governance. He is credited with starting the Algerian Civil War after he nullified the 1991 elections in which the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique de Salut [FIS]) was posed to win. Although Nezzar's human rights record is highly controversial, this does not discount his intimate knowledge of and involvement with the military aspects of bringing independence to Algeria.

While visiting Algiers in 2003, I picked up one of Nezzar's memoirs. The book, Battle Stories, published in Arabic, offers Nezzar's recollections of the Algerian War of Independence that lasted from 1954 to 1962. The long, grueling war caused the mutiny of the French Foreign Legion units whose mission was to retain Algeria as a French colony.

Nezzar gives readers insight into the organization and tactical thought of Algerian guerrilla and conventional warfare. This book and Nezzar's 1999 memoir are important works of military history available to Arab readers. Nezzar's books are also accessible in French.

The National Liberation Front

Today, the warring factions in Algeria are the ruling National Liberation Front (Front de Liberation Nationale [FLN]), the Armed Islamic Group (Groupements Islamique Arme [GIA]), and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat [GSPC]), which is closely linked to al-Qaeda. These militant groups consist of Algerians reared on the stories and tactics of the Algerian War for Independence.

Nezzar's memoirs give us an understanding of the terrain, tactics, and evolution of combat capabilities of guerrilla movements in Algeria. The book offers lessons in how French Armed Forces dealt with terror tactics and guerrilla warfare in the past and how these lessons might be applicable today. For example, Osama bin-Laden studied terrorist groups and successful insurgency movements, particularly those of Arab liberation, and he counts the GIA as part of his declared World Muslim Front.

Nezzar has recently been the subject of a 2002 court case in which he was charged with torture and inhumane treatment of his enemies. Former Algerian army officer Habib Souaidia's book, The Dirty War (La Sale Guerre), published in French, accuses Nezzar of torture, extrajudicial killings, and for prolonging the state of emergency. According to the "Executive Summary for Algeria Under Politics," in Jane 's Sentinel Security Assessment-North Africa (on-line at ), ultimate power in Algeria is thought to be in the hands of five generals, one of whom is Nezzar. Nezzar's memoirs might offer insight into his motivations for not wanting to see Algeria lapse into religious radicalism.

Early FLN members were a cell of disgruntled officers of the French Auxiliary Forces and Foreign Legion. Before beginning the independence movement in 1954 this cell focused on recruiting and studying military topics useful to insurgency movements, including demolitions training and mine and countermine warfare. In essence, the French Armed Forces helped train early FLN organizers.

In many ways, Nezzar's account is reminiscent of the story of U.S. Special Forces Sergeant Ali Mohammed, who in the early 1990s provided alQaeda with valuable training manuals that formed the basis of their jihad encyclopedia and operations manuals. Amazingly, Mohammed traveled to Afghanistan to train Islamic militants while on active duty in the U.S. military and without the knowledge of his chain of command. He also used skills learned in the U.S. Army to "case" U.S. embassies in Dar-elSalam and Nairobi.

Nezzar's memoirs also examine the FLN's early organization and strategic goals. Nezzar writes that a committee formed the National Revolutionary Council (Conseil National de la Revolution Algerienne [CNRA]), which included military men who had fought for France in Indochina and during World War II. …