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Rémy Madoui

The Algerian War since the 1st of November 1954

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Wilaya 4

French Army

« Are Guerrillas Unbeatable? »

  The commander of U.S. Central Command and U.S. forces in Iraq, General John Abizaid, said publicly that the coalition troops are facing a “classical guerrilla-type campaign” from insurgents whose tactics are growing more sophisticated[1]. The officer directly in charge of Baghdad, general William Wallace, stated that the enemy is “melding into the population”.

   Are coalition forces facing a classic guerrilla warfare campaign in Iraq? Are the Iraqi people letting the insurgents blend into their midst and are they supporting their activities – sine qua non conditions for a guerrilla success?

  Guerrilla warfare is not peculiar to the present day or to any part of the world; it is as old as humanity. The term “guerrilla” is Spanish for “little war”. The word was first used by bands of Spanish soldiers who fought against Napoleon’s French army in the Peninsular War of 1807-1814. But guerrilla has always been a feature of wars fought by every class of men and women against invaders, oppressors and superior military forces.

  Due to guerrilla “systematization” by Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, the carrying into action of insurgency’s theories and the advent of mass media, it is generally believed that guerrilla warfare is a communist invention and undertaking. Large-scale guerrilla fighting took place during the American Revolution. During World War II, France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Greece organized guerrilla forces. These forces known as the “underground” and, in France, as the “maquis”, conducted guerrilla operations and played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism and by dissidents to launch civil wars. There have been dozens of such conflicts. The United States has sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces and Nicaraguan contras.

  Guerrilla warfare is deadly and the most cost effective if waged properly. The many guerrilla wars in history have their points of difference, their peculiar characteristics, their varying processes and conclusions but they all have one thing in common: Guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war, a people war. It basically derives from the populations and is supported by them; it can neither exist nor succeed if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation. Consequently, it should be summed up in a very simple goal, understandable by even the most backward and illiterate segment of the population. The political objective must be concrete and clear and should coincide with the aspirations of the people. Nationalism, social injustice or oppression has always been prime motives for any insurgency movement. These causes appeal to the people as well to the guerrilla, and bring the two closer together, insuring the insurgents the support of the local population.

  Conventional military forces cannot successfully combat guerrilla operations. Insurgents are armed civilians committed fanatically to a simple cause with minimum logistical need. Military victory is meaningless; it does not take more than a handful of armed insurgents to keep the guerrilla going, as long as the population is supporting it.

  Is a guerrilla insurgency really unbeatable? A guerrilla “army” is a very vulnerable enterprise, at every stage of its evolution. What makes it appear invincible are the methods brought upon to fight it. Fighting it as if it were an army serves its objectives!  

  Usually once the insurgency starts, in most cases by terrorism acts (urban guerrilla), the security forces resort to strong measures to counter it, mostly against suspected terrorists... the people. The insurgents respond by further provoking security forces into taking measures which are repressive or unpopular (curfews, roadblocks, house to house searches, identification checks, detention of suspects, etc.). These actions tend to swing the sympathies of the public against the security forces and therefore supporting the insurgent cause. Provocation is then intensified by all means available to force the enemy to adopt harsher methods such as killing; bloodbath and destruction which create a vicious circle of violent aggressions and brutal reactions that cement the relationship between the people and the insurgents and insure the survival of the guerrilla. No life is spared to reach that crucial phase of the guerrilla. It is the deadliest period of an insurgency. The guerrilla’s body count reinforces the security forces’ belief that a military victory is the solution because there are noticeable results.

  The fallacy of attempting a military victory over a guerrilla insurgency diverts the attention from the real guerrilla weaknesses such as internal struggle for leadership. No non-communist guerrilla start with a homogenous leadership due to its populist nature. In some guerillas the infighting for leadership might last the duration of the insurrection and, often, it degenerates into a civil war while fighting the security force as in the case of the Algerian conflict. Numerous opportunities to negotiate transition to peace with moderate guerrilla faction are wasted in the frenetic pursuit of military victory.

  Most counter-guerrilla warfare share the dilemma the French confronted in the Algerian war, which began in 1954 with a nationalist uprising lead by the F.L.N.[2] The French were confident that they could overpower the insurgents with modern weaponry and overwhelming force. However, over the course of almost eight years and a French contingent of 830,000 troops, the French had to give up to about 10,000 F.L.N guerrillas in spite of a French “military” victory.

  I was part of that long and bloody war.

  Hardly one year after the beginning of the Algerian insurrection and not yet sixteen years old, I joined the F.L.N. guerrilla called maquis. I was a player as well as a witness to many events that weighed on the course of the Algerian conflict.

  From 1955 to 1960, I was combatant in various guerilla units, guerrilla coordinator at various levels of command, Political Commissary and espionage, counter espionage and communication Officer.

  I contributed to the creation, development and organization of Wilaya 4 (Algiers and the surrounding territory). From the six Wilaya of the insurgency territorial organization, Wilaya 4 was at the center of the Algerian war. With Wilaya 3 (Kabylia territory), they were the only areas where guerrilla leaders, regardless of their ranks, lived with the people and fought alongside their men, from the beginning until the end of the war.

  Under the leadership of colonel Si M’Hamed[3], Wilaya 4 became the model of the Algerian revolution. It was the heart of the guerrilla where major events and their aftermath that transformed Algeria and France took place.

  During the F.L.N. leadership infighting of 1960, I was victim to the second wave of "purging"; I was apprehended and handed over to the S.C.I.C.E.[4], acronym of an infernal instrument of death by torture and summary execution. Its preys were the so-called "treacherous French educated and intellectuals", mostly former students who joined the rebellion after the “students strike” or the "battle of Algiers". I know first hand the hellish cruelty of torture; my agony began on April 19, 1960.

  On May 6, 1960, and after more than two weeks of torture, I escaped and reached a nearby French military base.

  I decided to continue the armed struggle against the F.L.N. which, by then, represented neither the interest of the Algerian people nor the revolution such as it was conceived by the revolutionaries of the first hour, defined and approved in the 1956 “Soummam Declaration », the guerrilla’s constitution. Most of the F.L.N. leaders became puppets under the absolute control of a core of extremists called the "shirkers[5]", securely faraway from the war either in Morocco, or in Tunisia. The rise to power became the only “revolutionary” criterion. Power at any price, by any means and the elimination of all that remained faithful to the initial objective of the Algerian revolution.

  In a military operation I initiated, Abdelatif[6] was captured on May 7, 1960. I had been an intelligence and communications officer in his team. It was the beginning of the famous « Si Salah Case[7]».

  After my escape from the F.L.N. torture center, I was conscripted for military service in the French Army. I passed the entrance exam to an Officer Military Academy, and after graduation was commissioned second lieutenant. I then chose to serve in a counter-guerrilla commando and in the area where I have been tortured and where the S.C.I.C.E. was still wiping out the last educated and moderate revolutionaries.

  In 1962, there was no doubt that de Gaulle’s government intended to turn control of Algeria over to the extremist faction of the F.L.N. As I felt this to be a critical mistake for Algeria, I deserted the French army and joined the French O.A.S.[8] in March 1962 and opposed general de Gaulle’s Algerian policy. The O.A.S. was still under the control of former French officers with whom I shared a vision for the future of Algeria. Unfortunately, the radical wing of the organization outflanked these officers with deadly consequences.

  I was ambushed and made prisoner by the French army on April 1, 1962, sent to France, and condemned on January 18, 1963 by a military tribunal and imprisoned in la Sante, Fresnes and Rouen jailhouses. Subsequently, I was pardoned on January 29, 1965. I left France definitively in June 1965 for the United States where I resumed my studies. After few years in education as a college assistant professor and a career in business as a Vice President of Marketing and International Operations in a multinational corporation, I founded a consulting firm in international business development.

Book description

As a former guerrilla officer for five years, I have always been disappointed by the absence of a major work on the nature of guerrilla warfare and its outcome. Most writings are shaped by the political orientation or military theories of their authors. This led me to write Are Guerrillas Unbeatable? This 107,000 word plus, non-fiction manuscript is a story that captures guerrilla evolution from inception to resolution, its strengths and weaknesses from the inside.

  This account shows the reader what it really means to be a guerrilla. It is neither the larger-than-life romantic epic nor the glorified revolutionary of communist propaganda but the account of an average guy thrown into an extraordinary situation. It is a historical document written to convey the power and drama of the guerrilla. It is a powerful book, as authentic as any, heartrending and true, exciting and brutally tragic. It is an absolutely authentic portrayal of the guerrilla existence as I lived it.

  As a historical narrative, it is also a valuable document for researchers, public and college libraries. It covers one aspect of warfare as well as the French and Algerian common tormented history from 1954 to 1960.

  It took place in a similar environment to Iraq: multi-ethnic, Arab and Muslim country.

  Are Gerrillas Unbeatable ? is the author exclusive and active personnel involvement as an officer in the Algerian guerrilla, the French counter-guerrilla and the O.A.S. sedition.

  It is a testimony on the events which shaped the development of the Algerian war; on the authentic occasions for peace missed; on the admirable figures, too few, and the misleaders, too many, from both sides.

  It is also the history of a combat without mercy for the control of the Algerian and European people and the many imposters, each one with his "good and only" final solution, ideology and expeditious method who launched out to conquer men and spirits. These leaders found a fertile ground to their propaganda: two populations with a pathetic lack of political polish and a total absence of democratic experience. The two communities were pitched and tossed around from a utopian hope to an abysmal despair until losing the basic sense of reality.

  The aftermath of unrealistic hopes were laden with atrocious consequences:  disappointed expectations, inexpiable hatreds, and inhuman exactions on both sides. Drawn to despair, the two communities were played off against each other in murder and revenge. The paroxysm of this hatred between the Algerian and European populations culminated at the independence of Algeria. Indiscriminate slaughters of "the Arab" and the policy of "scorched earth" by the remnant of the O.A.S., and kidnappings and massacres of Pied-noirs[9] and Harkis[10] by the F.L.N.

  I will not develop in this book a complete chronology of the events or a history of the Algerian guerrilla. The object of this book is to make known: the predominant episodes which influenced the tragic end of the war; the existence of a democracy in Wilaya 4, its eradication and the takeover process by a F.L.N. junta; the tragic moments of a civil war between Algerians (F.L.N./M.N.A.[11]), in co-occurrence with the Franco-Algerian conflict; several murderous cases (Affaires): "Kobus", "Ben Cherif", “Si Salah”; and the bloody purging, from 1954 to 1962.

  As a scoop, I will bring out the truth about the origin and the unfolding of the "Si Salah Case[12]" of which I was a participant and a witness. The truth about this case was transformed by versions more often determined by the sense that one wanted to give to history than by the facts themselves. Since the Algerian independence, journalists and historians stacked up a whole body of "details" which is almost impossible to avoid when this event is evoked. The "Si Salah Case" reached such a scope and coverage and became the great event of the Algerian war because it was closely related to General Charles de Gaulle’s "treason", according to "his" opposition.

  I will expose the devastation brought upon the Algerian people due to such buzzwords as “control of the populations”, "psychological warfare" and tortures and liquidations - by both sides to the conflict.

Democracy in Wilaya 4

  The Algiers Wilaya gave birth to a "democracy" in Algeria in war; a revolutionary movement in search of a negotiated peace instead of a costly military victory. The fundamental objectives of the Algerian guerrilla, endorsed and ratified in the 1956 “Soummam Declaration”, were to liberate Algeria from the colonial system, in the name of the Algerian people, and to establish adequate infrastructures for the creation of a new country, based on democratic principles (collegial making decision process). The recourse to armed action was necessitated due to the refusal to grant any reform through pacific and political means, since 1945, by an oppressive French colonial system.

  The death in combat of M’Hamed and the misfortune of “Si Salah  Case” were the coup de grace of this unparalleled and only democratic experiment in the history of Algeria.

  The attempts at annihilating the Wilaya 4 democracy were numerous. The systematic destruction of any potential "valid spokesperson", truly representing the people, was a common objective to the French authorities and to the F.L.N. radicals, for different reasons.

  This situation was worsened by the relentless effort of the French authorities to impose a "third force" (Algerians but not nationalists) who actually represented only itself and its own interests.

  The Wilaya 4 was the embodiment of what Algeria could have been.

  The seizure of power by the extremists of the F.L.N.

  The leadership struggles and the seizure of power by the extremists changed the face of the Algerian guerrilla. It instituted at the Algerian independence one of the most violent and corrupt military dictatorship that modern history ever knew. The Algerian people are still paying a very high price in blood and lack of freedom.

  This seizure of power by these radicals (the majority of these officers, and their troops, had never fought in Algeria) was progressive and bloody. The plots, "coups d’état" and assassinations, which started from the very start of the revolution, and intensified during the war, continued well after the Algerian independence and until today.

  Populations control and "psychological warfare"

  Subversive war, counter-guerrilla, psychological warfare... all the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary lexicon was usually used in this unmentionable war. In spite of the revolutionary warfare theory and all the over-simplifications and half-truths imported from Vietminh P.O.W. camps by some French officers - whereas the Algerian revolutionaries were deeply anticommunists - the Algerian war was a sociological conflict and the populations were the stakes. The purpose of all was the exclusive control of the populations.

  Any guerrilla or resistance movement is entirely dependent on the local population for food, information (intelligence), recruits and the freedom of movement. The insurgent must be able to rely on the people even if they do not actively support him. He must, to repeat Mao Zetong, be able to live among them as fish in the water. Thus, if "the revolutionary is in the people as fish in the water", to defeat him it is crucial to cleanse the water. The French army started by destroying urban guerrilla cells, the "battle of Algiers", then the F.L.N. wherever it was, that is many small "battles of Algiers" throughout Algeria. Simultaneously, it was indispensable to empty the greatest part of the territory of its population in order to asphyxiate the revolutionaries; hundreds of thousands of peasants were moved and parked in miserable regrouping centers and their villages, lands, mountains lay ruined and became “forbidden areas” (Zones interdites).

  And in a war called officially "preserving law and order " in French territory (Algeria was officially and legally three French departments), the Algerian combatant was an outlaw, terrorist, and criminal, everything except a soldier. Consequently, all the means of repression were good for his destruction, and his accomplices. The non-military means such as torture became legitimate and were known to, and tacitly approved by, French authorities.

  As for the F.L.N. of origin, the Algerian people were his raison d'être. It is on their behalf that the revolution had been undertaken. It is from the people that the F.L.N. draws its army, its vitality and its survival. Without the support of the people the F.L.N. will cease to exist. Consequently, a war without mercy was waged for the control of the Algerian population. One side wanted to free it, the other to save it. One persuaded, threatened, moved whole populations, tortured, raped, mutilated, liquidated... exactions of all kinds and from all sides. Nothing was proscribed in that relentless battle, in that insane carnage.

Torture and liquidations

  Torture and liquidations were perpetrated on a large scale. All the participants conducted them, before and after the "battle of Algiers". Torture and liquidations became quite simply weapons in a war where the end justified the means.

  The purpose of torture was not only to stop terrorists from murdering innocent civilians for the French; or to prevent the enemy from infiltrating the clandestine organization for the F.L.N.; or to be used in a state of critical necessity. Torture was a method for gathering information but also an institutionalized intimidation machine, used routinely and its victims, in most cases, were summarily executed.

  I witnessed torture, torture was practiced under my command and I was tortured.

  For the F.L.N. torture was also the prelude to purging, elimination, discrete executions and mass slaughter. Torture and assassination became the procedure of choice for conflict resolutions, not only against adversaries but also within the F.L.N. For the extremists and the « marsiens[13]» today in power, the Algerian people were nothing else than human material available to serve their ambitions who, during the war, were sent against the French army to be massacred and that now they are killed when they rise against their dictatorship.

  Even today in F.L.N. Algeria, the only institution which functions well since independence is torture, completed by political assassination.


  The integral bankruptcy of Algeria since independence impels us to a more critical analysis of the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962. It is there where reside the seeds of dictatorship and brutality, which still prevail in Algeria. To continue incriminating the French "colonialism" is a manner of avoiding going at the bottom of the problems in order to establish responsibilities because, although the reactionaries opposed any reform, the colonial system was already breaking down in 1958.

  It would be another falsehood to impute violence in Algeria to the national character and the cultural heritage distinctive to Algerians. It is certain that the facts can support this interpretation. Violence does not relate to a cultural determinism and is not the inheritance of any society. Violence is in our humanity. Particular circumstances break it loose and impose it to a society in one form or another.

  The Algerian guerrilla was based on democratic principles, defined by the revolutionaries of the first hour in August 1956. Except for the propaganda part of this document, all principles are stated in the “Soummam Declaration”. The original F.L.N. did not share any affinity with the communist societies of the time nor with the corrupt feudal and military autocracies of the Arab world.

  What did happen to the F.L.N. during the war, which led independent Algeria to this material, social, political and moral bankruptcy?

  The goal of this book is to bring some clarifications about the defeat of the original guerrilla’s democracy and the extremists bloody march towards the usurpation of power. Plots, "coups d’état", purging, assassinations, massacres, indiscriminate terrorism and tortures made up the arsenal.

  Torture… the inhumanity that gangrened both the F.L.N. and the French Army.

 Are Guerrilla Unbeatable? 
Table of Contents

Chapter I: First months in the guerrilla
Chapter II: The difficult beginning of the Revolution
Chapter III: The rapid expansion of the guerrilla 

Chapter IV: The «Battle of Algiers» 
Chapter V: «Coup d’état» and «Civil War» within the F.L.N. 
Chapter VI – The Wilaya 4’s peak and decline 
Chapter VII: Torture 
Chapter VIII: Evasion 
Chapter IX: Surrender 
Chapter X:
The «Si Salah Case» 
Chapter XI: The French Army
Chapter XII: The O.A.S.
Word of thanks 
  Appendix I: Soummam Declaration 
  Appendix II: Call to the Algerian people of November 1st, 1954 
  Appendix III Wilaya 4 
Original and unpublished pictures

[1] Press Release: US State Department, Thursday, 17 July 2003, 11:36 am
From the French Front de Libération National (National Front for Liberation)  that started the military actions against the French. On November 1, 1954.
[3] His real name was Boughara Ahmed. He was Commander in chief of Wilaya 4, killed in battle on May 5 1959 in Ouled BouAchra, south of the city of Médéa.
[4] From French Service de Contre Infiltration et de Contre Espionnage (Counter Infiltration and Counter Intelligence Service)
[5] From the French “planqués «. Name given by the Algerian revolutionaries to those living in Morocco and in Tunisia.
[6] Aka Abdellatif Tolba. He was the commander in chief of Médéa zone in Algiers Wilaya
[7] « Affaire Si Salah », derived from the name Salah, (his real name Mohammed Zammoum), then commander in chief of Wilaya 4. Operation, which led to a meeting with general de Gaulle in Paris to negotiate his offer of “self-determination” for the Algerian people.
[8] From the French “Organisation de l’Armée Secrète” (Organization of the Secret Army)
[9] Europeans inhabitants of Algeria
[10] Auxiliary. From Harka, an auxiliary French military forces composed of Algerians
[11] From the French: “Mouvement Nationaliste Algérien” (Algerian National Movement), a nationalist political party
[12] « Affaire Si Salah »
[13] From the French word for the month of March = mars. Name given by the revolutionaries to Algerian officers and non-commissioned officers in the French Army who joined the F.L.N. " planqs/shirkers" after the cease-fire on March 18, 1962. They suddenly became freedom fighters.

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