Algerian War

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The Algerian War (1954–1962)


The Algerian War, also known as the Algerian War of Independence and the Algerian Revolution, was fought from 1954 to 1962. The main combatants were France and the Algerian National Liberation Front (Front de libération nationale, FLN). France had invaded the North African region of Algeria in 1830 and declared it an integral part of France in 1848. Many French citizens moved to Algeria forming a group known as the Pieds-Noirs, and largely lived in conditions superior to those of the majority Muslim native Algerian population. After fighting in the Second World War and witnessing the French defeat in Indochina, the FLN instigated what was at first a peaceful movement for independence. When France rejected the movement’s petition for freedom, the FLN coordinated a series of attacks in 1954 on military and civilian targets, calling for an armed national liberation struggle for Algerian independence. A long conflict consisting of guerilla warfare, attacks on civilians, and terror campaigns marked the Algerian War as a particularly brutal struggle. The FLN also brought the conflict into the cities with the famous Battle of Algiers in 1956–57 that was countered by increasingly aggressive and violent military repression on the part of the French forces and their sympathizers.

Despite complaints from the military command in Algiers, the French government was reluctant for many months to admit that the Algerian situation was out of control and that what was viewed officially as a pacification operation had developed into a war. By 1956, there were more than 400,000 French 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, so-called Harkis, most of them volunteers. They faced partisan forces of the FLN of an estimated number of 300,000 identified soldiers and at least 40,000 civilian supporters. Tens of thousands of women actively supported the struggle of the FLN. The FLN became a very influential model for anti-colonial liberation armies and their guerilla warfare in other colonies in Africa and Asia in the 1950s through the 1970s.The FLN’s internationalization influenced other liberation movements, and they modeled the FLN’s success in using aid from the Soviet Union and China. The FLN’s allegiance with the Soviet Union and China turned the Algerian War into one of the many proxy wars during the Global Cold War (1946–90).

The Algerian War led to a political crisis and the collapse of the Fourth Republic of France. It was replaced by the Fifth Republic led by the French Second World War hero Charles de Gaulle, who returned to power after twelve-years of absence in May 1958. But he failed to keep his promises to the French people to resolve the conflict by retaining Algeria as a part of the empire. After a second referendum on Algeria’s independence in April 1962, in which 91 percent of the French electorate voted for independence, the French government and military withdrew, followed by many of the Pieds-Noirs and Harkis. The total number of casualties from the conflict is still contested. Historians estimate 250,000 to 300,000 Algerian casualties, including 55,000 to 250,000 civilians. One million Europeans fled the region, and 2,000,000 Algerians resettled or were displaced. The end of the war marked the final demise of the French empire.

For basic information see the Wikipedia page on the Algerian War.


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