Armed Forces Overview: Algeria’s military, paramilitary, and police forces are more concerned about an internal threat from Islamic extremists than a definable external threat. The military is credited with controlling the internal threat through operational and surveillance activities. Russia has supplied most of the military’s equipment.
Foreign Military Relations: Algeria’s leading arms supplier is Russia, and the second most important supplier is China. The United States has been reluctant to provide Algeria with arms, although the two nations began a dialogue on military relations in 2004. The United States trains Algerian troops under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. In 2004 France and Algeria began talks that could lead to a mutual defense treaty.
External Threat: Algeria does not face a clearly defined external threat. Theoretically, Algeria could become embroiled in a serious dispute with neighboring Morocco over Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front, a Western Saharan independence movement.
Defense Budget: In 2004 Algeria’s defense expenditures totaled about US$2.5 billion, corresponding to more than 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Major Military Units: Algeria’s active-duty military consists of 110,000 in the army (including 75,000 conscripts), 7,500 in the navy and coast guard, and 10,000 in the air force. In addition to active-duty personnel, Algeria has about 150,000 military reserves assigned to the army. The army is organized in six military regions. Reorganization into a divisional structure is under consideration. Major army units include two armored divisions, two mechanized divisions, one airborne division, one independent armored brigade, and four independent mechanized infantry brigades. Additional battalions are as follows: 20 independent infantry, two artillery, one air defense, and six antiaircraft artillery. The air force is organized in three fighter/ground attack squadrons, five fighter squadrons, two reconnaissance squadrons, two surveillance/signals intelligence squadrons, two maritime reconnaissance squadrons, two transport squadrons, and five training squadrons. The navy and coast guard have bases at Mers el Kebir, Algiers, Annaba, and Jijel.
Major Military Equipment: Algeria’s army has the following equipment: 1,000 main battle tanks, 124 reconnaissance vehicles, 989 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 630 armored personnel carriers, 406 towed artillery, 370 self-propelled artillery, 144 multiple rocket launchers, 330 mortars, an unspecified number of antitank guided weapons, 178 recoilless launchers, 246 antitank guns, about 900 air defense guns, and an unspecified number of surface-to-air missiles. The navy has two submarines, three principal surface combatants, 25 patrol and coastal combatants, three amphibious craft, and three support and miscellaneous craft. The air force has 175 combat aircraft and 91 armed helicopters.
Military Service: Military service is compulsory for males aged 19–30. The term of service is 18 months, consisting of 6 months of basic training and 12 months of civil projects.
Paramilitary Forces: Algeria’s paramilitary forces include the 60,000-member Gendarmerie Nationale, which is subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense; the 1,200-member Republican Guard, an elite corps of the Gendarmerie Nationale; and an estimated 20,000 national security forces in the General Directorate of National Security under the Ministry of Interior.
Foreign Military Forces: No foreign forces are based in Algeria.
Military Forces Abroad: Algeria has deployed observers with the United Nations (UN) Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Police: Responsibility for maintaining law and order is shared by the 60,000-member Gendarmerie Nationale, under the Ministry of National Defense, and the 30,000-member Sûreté Nationale, or national police force, under the Ministry of Interior. The Gendarmerie Nationale is mainly active in rural and remote areas of the country, while the Sûreté Nationale is primarily an urban police force. Algeria’s various security forces have been involved in counterterrorism operations and have been accused of excesses in the battle against Islamist groups. They also face complaints of harassing journalists.
Internal Threat: Algeria faces a threat from domestic Islamist radical groups. These groups rose up in rebellion in 1992 after the government halted a national election that would have given power to the militant Islamic Salvation Front. Related terrorism, which cost the lives of as many as 150,000 people, has abated since the government began to offer amnesty to rebels. Berber unrest also remains a concern and periodically manifests itself in the form of demonstrations to protest restrictions on ethnic, cultural, and linguistic rights.
Terrorism: Algeria has a tradition of Islamist-inspired terrorism, spurred by two groups that have competed for influence: the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé—GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat—GSPC). Al Qaeda was instrumental in establishing the GSPC as an alternative to the GIA, which continues to operate in a diminished form. In 1996 Osama bin Laden encouraged the GSPC to break away from the GIA because he disapproved of the GIA’s extremely unpopular policy of massacring Muslim civilians who were not jihadists. Bin Laden shares the GSPC’s Salafist beliefs, which advocate a restoration of the stringent form of Sunni Islam practiced by companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Although avoiding wanton violence against civilians, the GSPC targets the security services of Algeria’s secular government. In one notorious incident in 2003, the GSPC seized European tourists visiting the Sahara Desert. Fourteen of the hostages were released after more than five months in exchange for ransom paid by the German government; the fifteenth hostage died while in custody.
After 1992 terrorism flared when the government canceled the second round of elections in which an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, held a substantial lead after the first round. Ensuing civil strife led to the death of as many as 150,000 people. In the early 2000s, the government offered amnesty to the rebels; violence has since abated, but a state of emergency continues. President Bouteflika, who was re-elected in April 2004, enjoys broad support because of the success of his amnesty programs in ushering in a period of relative stability. In September 2005, Bouteflika’s approach was once again endorsed when a popular referendum on the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation passed by an overwhelming margin. The charter provides for a continuing amnesty program for all but the most violent insurgents, exoneration of the security services for alleged misdeeds in fighting the insurgency, and compensation for the victims of violence.
Human Rights: In its annual country report on human rights practices released March 2006, the U.S. Department of State noted the persistence of a number of human rights problems in Algeria but credited the government with having taken several significant steps to strengthen human rights in 2005. Continuing problems listed in the report include failure to account for past disappearances, alleged incidences of abuse and torture of detainees, impunity, arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention, denial of due process, restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of religion, corruption, and discrimination against women and minorities. Improvements cited in the report include a significant reduction in the incidence of abuse, torture, and arbitrary arrest by security forces; a crackdown on government (including judicial) corruption; the strengthening of equal rights protections for women in the Family Code and Nationality Code; and an attempt to address under-representation of Berber interests in the Kabylie by holding special regional elections in November 2005.