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Galula, Pacification in Algeria 1956-1958

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David Galula, '''Pacification in Algeria (2006 RAND Corp, first published in 1963)

Pacification in Algeria



Author background: Colonel David Galula (1919-1967) was born in Tunisia to French parents and raised in Morocco. He earned his baccalaureate in Casablanca and attended the military academy at Saint-Cyr. He saw limited action in World War II in North Africa, Italy, and France. At other times in his career, he served in China and as a United Nations military observer in Greece and a military attaché in Hong Kong. While in China from 1945 to 1948, he studied Mao Tse-tung’s methods of guerrilla warfare and was held captive by the Chinese communists for a time. Colonel Galula was stationed in Algeria at the time of the revolt by the French Army. Shortly thereafter, he wrote Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, while attending the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. As an experienced practitioner of warfare and an academic with impeccable credentials, Galula’s thoughts on insurgency are viewed as seminal by insurgency experts.



Thesis: French Army’s failure to understand the nature of the insurgency warfare, lack of counterinsurgency doctrine, and the reliance on kinetic weapons eventually led to French defeat. He faults the French for waging a war when victory could only be attained by providing security for the populace. French continued to use conventional weapons in an unconventional war. Galula believes that focusing on the populace, rather than just the insurgents is the proper way to win an insurgency.


Arguments: Galula introduces several imperatives from his experiences in Algeria on counterinsurgency warfare.

  • The absence of counterinsurgency doctrine led to French failure
  • The French government failed to recognize the signs of a budding insurgency : ‘Ordinary banditry,’ said a high-ranking government official in Algiers . . . By the time the insurrection was finally recognized for what it was, only drastic political and military action would have reversed the tide, and slowly in any case.”
  • The insurgents’ urban terrorist strategy: “The rebels realized that they could achieve the greatest psychological effect on the French and on world opinion at the cheapest price by stepping up terrorism in the main cities, notably in Algiers.
  • The imperative of separating the population from the insurgents:
  • The concomitant imperative of not inadvertently alienating the indigenous population: “If we distinguish between people and rebels, then we have a chance. One cannot catch a fly with vinegar. My rules are this: outwardly treat every civilian as a friend; inwardly you must consider him as a rebel ally until you have positive proof to the contrary.”
  • The emphasis on policing rather than military tactics in countering an insurgency: “While the insurgent does not hesitate to use terror, the counterinsurgent has to engage in police work.
  • The fallacy of a decapitation strategy to defeat an insurgency: “Then, five top leaders of the rebellion, including Ben Bella, had been neatly caught during a flight from Rabat to Tunis. Their capture, I admit, had little effect on the direction of the rebellion, because the movement was too loosely organized to crumble under such a blow.”
  • The critical importance in a counterinsurgency of an effective information operations campaign:
  • The importance of sealing off the borders
  • The importance of according humane treatment to captured insurgents


Implications for strategy:

  • Each insurgency is unique. A universal theory does not exist for counterinsurgency
  • Galula’s thoughts and precepts serve as a good starting point when developing a counterinsurgency strategy
  • COIN strategy is a mixture of kinetic and non-kinetic solutions. The strategist’s challenge is to find the correct balance

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