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Algeria: How President Tebboune is dismantling Gaïd Salah’s military networks

By Farid Alilat
Posted on Friday, 28 August 2020 06:52

Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is shaking up the military's leadership. © Sidali Djarboub/AP/SIPA

A velvet revolution is underway within the Algerian army. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune targeted three highly sensitive defence ministry departments with dismissals in mid-August.

Appointed in 2017 as the head of the army’s signals, information systems and electronic warfare department Major General Abdelkader Lachkhem was dismissed and replaced by Maj. Gen. Farid Bedjghit, who had until then headed the École Supérieure des Transmissions in Kolea. Director of the organisation and logistics department of the Army General Staff Gen. Ali Akroum was removed and replaced by Maj. Gen. Houes Ziari.

The leadership of the directorate of military production was not spared. Its chief, Maj. Gen. Rachid Chouaki, was removed, as was Maj. Gen. Mohammed Teboudelette, who was in charge of military equipment.

Special Relationship

Lachkhem’s ouster is another step in the vast operation of dismantling the networks set up by Ahmed Gaïd Salah, former Chief of Staff of the Army and deputy defence minister who died last December of a heart attack. Chief of staff since 2004, Gaïd Salah had gradually made himself the unquestioned and undisputed boss of the military.

Those he had placed in the army and intelligence hierarchies were for the most part loyal to him and made him Algeria’s strongman after the forced resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019. Salah’s death and his replacement by Maj. Gen. Said Chengriha thus sealed the fate of these supporters, who were seen as too close to the former chief of staff.

A key Gaïd Salah ally, Lachkhem had been under investigation since last April, notably for his alleged involvement in the exfiltration of Chief Warrant Officer Guermit Bounouira, who was recently extradited from Turkey. A former private secretary to Gaïd Salah, Bounouira fled Algeria in March to seek asylum in exchange for highly sensitive information and documents.

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He was unsuccessful. “It was a question of principle for Turkey,” explains a source close to Turkish military intelligence. “[Bounouira’s] return will make it possible to further strengthen ties between Algeria and Turkey.” Placed in detention in the military prison of Blida, in the company of some 20 high-ranking officers, Bounouira is being prosecuted for high treason.

The former head of the national gendarmerie, Gen. Ghali Belksir, who is on the run abroad, is also being prosecuted on the same charge. A judge at the Blida military court has issued an international arrest warrant for him. According to our information, Belksir was, until recently, on holiday in southern Spain with his brother.

Another key man in the Gaïd Salah system, Gen. Belksir had overseen investigations into corruption that sent more than 20 former ministers, two former prime ministers, several oligarchs and other leaders of the Bouteflika clan to prison.

The fall of Gen. Lachkhem, who also does not have immunity from prosecution, harkens back to the downfall of Gen. Wassini Bouazza, another key figure in the Gaïd Salah universe. A former boss of the dreaded internal security directorate, Bouazza was sentenced in June to eight years in prison for “forgery and the use of forged documents, assault, possession of firearms and type IV ammunition”.

Protected by Gaïd Salah, to whom he owed his meteoric rise, Bouazza was a specialist in dirty tricks, of which Tebboune was a victim when he was a candidate for the presidential election in December 2019. For Bouazza, this conviction is a prelude to further legal problems, as he is being re-investigated for much more serious crimes.

Without fanfare

Bouazza, Belksir, Lachkhem, Bounouira: all four are part of Gaïd Salah’s legacy, which is in danger of disappearing.

They are not the only ones who are part of this legacy, but they symbolise the dark side of the governance of the Bouteflika-Gaïd Salah years. Blackmail, corruption, abuse of power, hiding abroad, intelligence deals with foreign powers: the actions of the “Gaïd boys” have played a clear role in the degradation of the military’s image. Hence Tebboune’s quest to make radical changes in practically all the institutions of the armed forces and intelligence services.

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The method chosen by the Algerian President, one without fanfare, contrasts with the Bouteflika era, where the dismantling of the intelligence and intelligence services between 2013 and 2015 had turned into a media circus, causing significant damage in an environment where secrecy and confidentiality are traditionally of great importance.

Chief of Staff Chengriha, who replaced Gaïd Salah, had experienced major differences with his predecessor, whom he had reproached for his brutal management of the Hirak protesters after Bouteflika’s forced resignation.

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