Galula in Algeria: Counter-Insurgency Practice versus Theory by Gregor Mathias. Translated by Neal Durando and Foreword by David Ucko. Published by Praeger Press, Boulder, Colorado. 137 pages, 2011.
As Algeria observes the 60th anniversary of its independence from French colonial rule this maybe a good time to reflect on the impact this conflict has had in the 21st century. Operation Iraqi Freedom has led America’s military planners to rediscover what went wrong and what went right with the tactics of the French in Algeria. French army officer David Galula acquired a reputation, specializing in counter-insurgency warfare beginning with his service in a mountainous sector of Algeria in 1956 to 1957 to witnessing Chinese civil war as a military attaché, as well as observing first hand communist insurgencies in Greece and the Philippines. The U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 published in 2006 on Counter-insurgency and designed to educate soldiers serving in Iraq cites Galula’s work. Gregor Mathias works for the Service Historique de la Defense, the equivalent of our own Secretary of Defense Office of the Historian, and he specializes in the Algerian War. Neal Durando has done a service by translating from French Mathias’s book entitled “David Galula et la contre-insurrection en Algerie,” published in 2010. It provides a slim and short volume distilling the main lessons learned from the rural campaigns in the Algerian War on Independence.
Galula’s main focus is the population, by protecting and providing for a population you open venues by which an insurgency can become vulnerable. An effective tool was the Section Administrative Specialee (SAS); these were military teams living in Algeria’s villages constructing schools, roads and medical services. The SAS presence so unnerved the Armée de libération nationale (ALN) the military arm of the Algerian independence movement that SAS officers were directly targeted. A section discusses the importance of media, perception and propaganda, and how effective the Front de libération nationale (FLN) was in saturating the airwaves with anti-colonial propaganda. Of note, while the French colonization and discrimination policies in Algeria among the majority Muslim population was becoming untenable, the FLN targeted many Muslims deemed working for the French. It demonstrates the importance of not isolating a population, and Galula has much to say about the harkis, Muslim and Algeria troops serving alongside French forces who understood the terrain and social organization of villages in the Algerian mountains.
Galula’s work focuses on the tactics of the Algerian War for Independence. If you are completely unfamiliar with this conflict, let me recommend reading Alistair Horne’s definitive book “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962,” and you may wish to watch the multi-part documentary “The Algerian War,” originally released in English in 1975 and re-released many times, the last one being on 2011 by then Military Heritage Institute. These will give you a tactical, operational, and strategic view of the conflict that led to the collapse of the French Fourth Republic and the ascendancy of Charles De Gaulle into power as well as the mutiny of French generals in Algeria. Finally, there is the famous and timeless 1965 film by Gilo Pontecorvo “The Battle of Algiers,” You can take this book review column to your base library and ask the librarian to acquire these items for you through inter-library loan.
Editor’s Note: CDR Aboul-Enein teaches part-time at the National Defense University and maintains a regular book review column in NDW Waterline. He is author of a new book “Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr Ali al-Wardi from the Ottomans to King Feisal,” published by Naval Institute Press.