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Dec 5, 2006

  • History of warfare is as old as history of mankind itself. It is full of many extraordinary events which have left significant imprints for times to come. The Algerian insurgency is one such event which brought in a new dimension in the contemporary warfare. As Henry Kissinger during the debate on troop surge to Iraq encouraged President Bush to read Alistair Horne’s seminal study of the Algerian War of Independence, A Savage War of Peace, this conflict offers an indispensable insight, truly relevant to the conduct of counterinsurgency operations (COIN) in today’s security environment. Algerian insurgency which erupted into a decolonization war is often portrayed as a model of classic insurgent warfare that effectively combined guerrilla strategies with a highly brutal drive of urban terrorism. During this atrocious campaign over 25,000 of French soldiers were killed and over 60,000 wounded, while on the Algerian side, over half a million died.
  • Fundamentally, it was a simple national movement replete with stories of extreme sacrifices, devotion and patriotism, springing from the mass of the people to depose the French colonial yoke. It was a counterinsurgency for the France and war of independence for Algeria. Throughout the conflict, the French Army achieved measurable success at the tactical level but in the absence of an overreaching political plan and unified effort, tactical gains did not translate to strategic success. The valiant struggle resulted in the shape of independent Algeria on the world map. In short, the French Army won all the battles but France lost the war.
  • Keeping in view such relevance and value of this conflict, it is of the essence for us to study the Algerian war and draw lessons which are applicable to prevalent internal security situation in erstwhile FATA and Balochistan.

This article will analyse the causes that led to the insurgency in Algeria and the tactics adopted by the insurgents and French Army with a view to draw lessons relevant to current environment in FATA and Balochistan.

  • French Forces and Commanders
  • Forces. By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops in Algeria. Although the elite colonial infantry airborne units and the Foreign Legion bore the brunt of offensive counterinsurgency combat operations, approximately 170,000 Muslim Algerians also served in the regular French army, most of them were volunteers.
  • Commanders. France had 18 Governor Generals or delegate Generals from 1955 to 1962. Raoul Salan (1957-58) who introduced quadrillage tactics and General Morice Challe (1959-60) who launched an offensive using air against insurgents figured out to be most successful.
  • French plan was to crush insurgent’s movement with kinetic operation with no consideration for collateral damage.
  • Pre-Counter Insurgency Period (1953-1954). Despite complaints from the military commanders in Algiers, the French Government was reluctant for many months to admit that the Algerian situation was getting out of control. What had been originally thought of a simple "pacification" or "public order operation" had turned into a full-fledged colonial war to block the influence of the guerrillas fighting for independent.
  • Role of French Army in Algerian Administration. The French army sought an important role in local Algerian administration through the Special Administration Section (Section Administrative Spécialisée, SAS), created in 1955. Its mission was to establish contacts with the Muslim population and weaken nationalist influence in the rural areas by asserting the "French presence" there. SAS officers - called képis bleus (blue caps) also recruited and trained bands of loyal Muslim irregulars, known as harkis. Armed with shotguns and using guerrilla tactics similar to those of the FLN, the harkis, who eventually numbered about 180,000 volunteers, more than the FLN effectives, were an ideal instrument of counterinsurgency warfare.
  • Countering the Insurgency through Harkis. Harkis were mostly used in conventional formations, either in all Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units. Other uses included platoon or smaller size units, attached to French battalions. A third use was an intelligence gathering role, with some reported minor pseudo-operations in support of their intelligence collection.
  • Use of Air. France also sent air force and naval units to the Algerian theatre, including helicopters. In addition to service as a flying ambulance and cargo carrier, French forces utilized the helicopters for the first time in a ground attack role in order to pursue and destroy fleeing FLN guerrilla units. The American military would later use the same helicopters combat methods in Vietnam.
  • Quadrillage Tactics. Late in 1957, General Raoul Salan, commanding the French army in Algeria, instituted a system of quadrillage (surveillance using a grid pattern), dividing the country into sectors, each permanently garrisoned by troops responsible for suppressing rebel operations in their assigned territory. Salan's methods sharply reduced the instances of FLN terrorism but tied down a large number of troops in static defence. Salan also constructed a heavily patrolled system of barriers to limit infiltration from Tunisia and Morocco. The best known of these was the Morice Line (named for the French defense minister, André Morice), which consisted of an electrified fence, barbed wire, and mines over a 320 kilometers stretch of the Tunisian border.
  • Collective Responsibility. The French military commanders ruthlessly applied the principle of collective responsibility to villages suspected of sheltering, supplying, or in any way cooperating with the guerrillas. Villages that could not be reached by mobile units were subjected to aerial bombardment.
  • Military Camps. Finding it impossible to protect all of Algeria's remote farms and villages, the French government also initiated a program of concentrating large segments of the rural population, including many of complete villages, in camps under military supervision to prevent them from voluntarily aiding the rebels, or to protect them from FLN extortion. In the three years from 1957-1960 more than two million Algerians were removed from their villages, mostly in the mountain areas, and resettled in the plains, where many found it impossible to re-establish their accustomed economic or social situations. The disruptive social and economic effects of this massive relocation continued to be felt a generation later.
  • Shift in Tactics. The French army shifted its tactics at the end of 1958 from dependence on quadrillage to the use of mobile forces employed on massive search and destroy missions against FLN strongholds. Within next year, Salan's successor, General Maurice Challe, appeared to have suppressed major rebel resistance. The French army finally obtained a military victory in the war, but the political situation had changed and Algerian independence could no longer be forestalled.
  • Cease Fire. The Évian Accord was signed on March 18, 1962 in France by France and the FLN which put an end to the Algerian War with a formal cease-fire.
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  • French strategy revolved around military actions beginning with crushing rebellions. They relied solely on military operations sidelining the most imp factors of political will, national strategy and Centre of Gravity. Due to absence of a political plan, tactical successes did not translate into strategic success. In short, the French Army won all the battles but France lost the war.
  • Strengths of Algerian Insurgents. Few factors which gave strength to insurgents were:-
    • External Support. Insurgents had external support of neighbours like Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. This helped them to maintain the insurgency drive ultimately leading to independence.
    • Taking Advantage of Prolonged French Occupation. The French Government’s prolonged occupation of Algeria created unrest among the local population; insurgents took advantage of this resentment to gain population support.
    • Exploiting Poor Government Policies. French government made biased laws for the Algerians by not allowing them to gather publicly, possess fire arms and restricting their movements within the country which created resentment amongst the population exploited by insurgents.
    • Exploiting Unjust Distribution of Wealth. All the resources and mineral wealth of Algeria were under French control. They deprived their access to indigenous population of the country. Insurgents used unjust distribution of wealth to their advantage by gathering local support.
    • Benefitting from French Social Injustices. The French imposed heavy taxes on the Muslim population and barred them from getting education. Muslim representation in the government was minimal which created resentment against the French.
    • Knowledge of Terrain. The insurgents used their superior knowledge of the terrain to slip away from the grasp of the French security forces.
    • Survival Tactics. Insurgents could survive French efforts by hiding in the areas that were not vigorously patrolled.
    • Exploiting French Army’s Weaknesses. Insurgents exploited deficiency of French troops and inadequacies in plans especially in the initial stage of the conflict.
  • Weaknesses of Algerian Insurgents. The weaknesses of Algerian insurgents are as following:-
    • Inability to Muster Local Support. In the initial stages of insurgency, insurgents operated secretly. Majority of indigenous population was unwilling to join their cause as they were either ignorant of insurgents agenda or knew the heavy price, they would have to pay for their support of an insurgency.
    • Serious Setbacks. Between 1957 and 1960, insurgents suffered three reversals in terms of losing Battle of Algiers, The frontiers and Challe’s offensives of 1959-1960.
    • Threatening the Masses. During first stage, insurgents could not understand the importance of masses. Indigenous population was also harassed at gun point
  • Strengths of French Counter-Insurgency Campaign. The strengths of the French were:-
    • Creation and Use of Harkis Force. The French forces created an auxiliary force comprising Muslim Algerians known as Harkis. Harkis were used as guerrilla style units, though mostly in conventional formations. Harkis served either in all-Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units.
    • Effective Use of Human Intelligence. Creation of Harkis and availability of Muslim Algerians who supported French occupation, provided an opportunity to the French army to gather timely intelligence on insurgent operations. Successful population surveillance led to the development of collaborators and, in turn to infiltration of the insurgent’s operations.
    • Psychological Operations. French Army recognized the value of psychological operations. Specific training in psychological warfare was included at the counterinsurgency training centre. French efforts in psychological operations proved very successful in Algeria.
    • Military Civic Actions. French Army established civil affairs teams called Sections Administrative Specialises (SAS). The mission of SAS was to solve the problem of under administration in Muslim rural areas. SAS teams provided education, agricultural improvements, infrastructure and health care to indigenous people. It proved to be a significant factor in insurgency i.e. inability to use small villages as operational and supply bases.
    • Use of Indigenous Force. The use of harkis and others provided additional man-power as well as regional / local knowledge and intelligence otherwise not easily available to French army.
  • Weaknesses of French Counter-Insurgency Campaign. The flaws of the French forces in countering the insurgents were:-
    • Failure to Stop Foreign Support to Insurgents. The French failed to stop the foreign support to the insurgents. Egypt, Morocco as well as other North African countries and Europe, provided sanctuary for leaders and supporters of insurgents.
    • Failure to Identify the Centre of Gravity. French failed to understand the importance of local population. Rather to recognize and mitigate the animosity of population, the French deliberately took steps to politically and economically marginalize the Muslim inhabitants.
    • Diplomatic Failure. The French government did not allow any country to involve in a discourse on Algerian problem, thus limiting the chances of mediation.
    • Poor Governance. The French government failed to win the support of the population throughout their counter insurgency campaign leading the insurgency to grow beyond control.
    • Poor Media Relations. By blocking newspapers or preventing stories to be published, the French undermined the rule of law. This added to the negative international opinion.
    • Not Seeking Political Solution. The French used the military option right from the outset without first countering the insurgency on the political front. The political and military effort of the French was never harmonized.
    • Non Existence of Counter Insurgency Doctrine. The French did not have any doctrine available for counter insurgency and therefore did not know how to effectively deal with this menace.
    • Interrogation Tactics. The use of torture and harsh interrogation tactics plagued the French military efforts in Algeria and on the home front. It proved to be counterproductive and put into question France’s moral legitimacy.
    • Collateral Damage. The French military while going after the insurgents also targeted the local population, which in turn went against the French military and the government.

Similarities and Variations from Situation in Balochistan and FATA

  • Similarities
    • Under Development. Majority of the Algeria was underdeveloped with only development in the major cities. There was lack of civic and education facilities for the Muslims of Algeria. FATA and Balochistan share the same fate.
    • Lack of Political Representation. Lack of Political representation to the Algerian Muslims gave rise to insurgency in Algeria. Elections were rigged which forced people to fight for their rights through armed struggle. FATA and Balochistan also have representation but not enough to make their voices heard.
    • Use of Torture. Use of torture by ALN to gain forced support of locals, killing of individuals supporting the French government and recruitment of pro ALN individuals into the French Army. The same tactics have been used by the militants in FATA and Balochistan.
    • Urban Terror. Algerian insurgency reached its climax when they brought the war to Algiers by carrying out indiscriminate bombing; the same has been done by militants by bombing the major cities in Pakistan.
    • External Support. In Algeria external support was one of the major reasons of insurgent’s success. In FATA and Balochistan the militant organization are also thriving due to the external support.
  • Variations
    • Freedom Struggle. In Algeria locals were fighting against foreign occupation however; in Balochistan and FATA miscreants are fighting against the writ of the government for unjustified and baseless causes.
    • Support of Masses. Algerian insurgency had active, moral and willing support across the country where as in Pakistan it is still void of popular support of the masses.
    • Political Front. The FLN had an external division (ED), which was fighting FLN’s case on the international front to garner support for FLN. The world too looked at the FLN as a force fighting for self determination and that is the reason world community sided with them. However in the case of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) or Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), their case is not being fought on the external front as the world is already an ally in Global War on Terror (GWOT).
    • Handling of Issues. French Army never made peace accords with the FLN and relied entirely on the military efforts to crush the insurgency, however in Pakistan settlement of the conflict through negotiations was preferred and various peace accords have been made with the militants before initiating the military actions.
    • Occupational Army vs National Army. French Army was an occupational Army who had a choice to leave country, did not care much for collateral damages, whereas in our case the Army is of the nation and forms from within masses.

Lessons Relevant to Environment in FATA and Balochistan

  • Maintenance of Political Aim. French had no clear political aims about future prospects of Algeria and its status. Decisions were made to meet situation at hand with no policy in line. Same is applicable to meet situation in FATA and Balochistan. Since we have set an aim to fight sub nationalists and terrorists, we must pursue this by all means.
  • WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds). Effective political and military steps aimed at winning hearts and minds of population will fetch better results. Our government and military are from within local populace and are not aliens like French. Therefore, such measures can be taken without much of difficulty and would certainly help in denying support of masses to insurgents.
  • Exterior Manoeuvre. Without foreign support, the Algerian insurgency or for that matter any insurgency would have failed to achieve its ends and same is applicable to situation in FATA and Balochistan. We need to advocate our case audaciously at international level and adopt an effectual diplomatic course to block the support from regional players specially our adversaries.
  • Consensus Building. To formulate a cohesive and comprehensive counter insurgency strategy, development of national consensus is of paramount importance. Lack of consensus as seen in case of French counterinsurgency campaign leads to indecisiveness which favours the insurgency cause.
  • Political Reforms. Algerian insurgency was promoted at faster speed due to lack of political representation of people at national level. Present representation of tribes in governance system is less and their voices are required to be increased to address issues at hand in a more effectual way i.e. by giving them more space in main stream politics.
  • Good Governance. Lack of good governance provided breeding ground for insurgency to flourish in Algeria. Both in FATA and Balochistan, civil administration is either nonexistent or totally inefficient to serve the purpose. Immediate and pragmatic decisions encompassing realistic political and administrative reforms are required to solve this issue. The political government must establish its writ, be efficient and vibrant to address the issues of masses as it would leave very little for insurgents to exploit.
  • Legitimacy for Military Actions. In handling terrorism, all peaceful efforts must be exhausted before exercise of military option, which should be used only as a last resort. When use of force becomes necessary, it is the responsibility of the political segment to set appropriate conditions for the military component to operate at least under some semblance of legitimacy. As seen in case of operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat and Operation Zarb-e-Azb even if peace efforts fail to achieve any significant result, it definitely provides legitimacy and public support to military action.
  • Understanding of Insurgents Strategy / Intentions. Government and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in general and Intelligence agencies in particular must understand the strategy / intentions of miscreants, so that they do not act or react according to their will. In this regard a close coordination between all intelligence agencies and LEAs would be highly beneficial. Formulation of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is a step in right direction.
  • Identifying Centre of Gravity. French failed to fully understand the importance of focusing their efforts towards the centre of gravity “The Population”. This is an elementary fact in the study of counterinsurgency but is often lost in execution. Support of the population must be denied to the miscreants at all cost, and should be used in favour of own operations.
  • Perception Management. Perception management is imperative in success of counter insurgency operations. This should include both i.e. propagation of own military actions in an optimistic way and campaign to discredit the insurgents. Recent achievements in operation Zarb-e-Azb and their projection on media is a step in right direction.
  • Use of Force and Rules of Engagement. The complexity inherent in the irregular warfare can lead to more surprising second and third order effects for the counter insurgent force. We must avoid collateral damage which is likely to alienate the populace.
  • Use of Local Forces. Capitalizing on local’s knowledge of culture and terrain, the security forces can achieve early success in their ops. Swat model evolved by Pakistan by creating force of local retired individuals to fight against miscreants has proved very viable and may also be replicated in FATA and Balochistan.
  • Capacity Building of Law Enforcement Agencies. Capacity building of Frontier Corps and Khassadars must be carried out to make them more effective and potent through induction of weapons and equipment beside organizing training by regular forces.
  • Synergy with Administration / Police. Close and intimate coordination between various echelons of national security would pay rich dividends. To counter the menace of terrorism there is a need to bridge the communication gap between Army, police and local administration.
  • Collateral Damage. Although counter insurgency operations are civilian causality extensive, but all possible efforts must be done to minimize it as it is likely to alienate the populace. Where un-avoidable appropriate compensation must be given. Local
  • Integration of Political and Military Measures. In such operations the integration of political and military measures not only determines the grand lines of strategy but also effects the tactical decisions. The French met this requirement by extending the responsibilities of armed forces and failed. Therefore, this integration can only be effectively achieved by the extension not of military but civilian authorities. The areas of internal war, essentially social, economic and political are more efficiently managed by civilian than the military persons so they should be employed accordingly.

Unlike so many other freedom movements, the story of Algerian Peoples War was unique in many ways. First, it saw the use of brutal military tactics against civilians not only by the occupant forces but also by the freedom fighters as well. It also witnessed the formulation of civilian colon terrorist groups fighting against their own Government and army in defiance of prevalent national policies. It also highlighted the fact that even a correct but delayed shift in the policies could not rescue the French cause. Last but not the least that despite losing battle on military front Algerians managed to succeed on political front. The war proved, once again, the inevitable necessity of coordination and unified linkage of political dispensation in unison with the employment of military force. Therefore, instead of utilizing only military component, all elements of national power must play their role in our fight against terrorism in FATA and Balochistan in order to achieve our desired objectives.

“Each insurgency rests in the culture, history and situation of the country……you don’t look for specific answers but patterns of thoughts”
David Galula
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Sep 25, 2016
First and foremost we need to minimize our causalities, we need to provide armor to our patrolling parties, our soldiers are fighting with bare minimum equipment and we are losing them , someone from the top needs to understand and fix it .. As always a very well written piece Sir :)


Dec 5, 2006
French were invaders and made Algeria there colony ,In colonial rule you find resurgences where as in Pakistan case the case is for political settlement which is constantly intervened .What type of mindset is this ?
Yes, that is a difference as you have highlighted. However, the aim of this article is to draw relevant lessons and measures which can be implemented in our environment as well.
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Mar 11, 2011
Saudi Arabia
Yes, that is a difference as you have highlighted. However, the aim of this article is to draw relevant lessons and measures which can be implemented in our environment as well.
Again i say (As my last comments were deleted by some reasons) no offense to any one but to compare the position of 2 is itself is not good as the message goes by is a) Is Pak Fouj a invading force which it is not b)why state of Pakistan will be looking to replicate such actions which were even condemed by French politicians
So posters should avoid comparing the 2 ,irony is there is positive ranking as well to such things

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