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Algeria: Power balance within military at stalemate since Gaid Salah era

Some army top officers were reinstated after being sacked in the aftermath of the DRS (Département de Renseignement et de Sécurité) disbandment. This may suggest an attempt to rebuild the intelligence superstructure, but the power balance within the military institution remains unchanged since the Ahmed Gaid Salah era.

Photo: ministère de la défense nationale.

The three main Algerian intelligence agencies haven’t seen anything but instability since 2019. The Central Directorate of Army Security (DCSA), the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) and the General Directorate of Documentation and external security (DGDSE) have witnessed a change of leadership for the umpteenth time in the summer of 2022.

The three directorates were entrusted to intelligence officers recalled from retirement. Still, there is a position to be filled, that of Director General of the fight against subversion, a job created for M’henna Djebbar before he was propelled to lead the DGDSE.

The latest appointment is that of General Abdelaziz Nouiouet Chouiter as head of the Central Directorate of Army Security (DCSA) to replace Major General Sid Ali Ould Zemirli who had resigned following the imprisonment by military justice of his brother, also an intelligence officer.

The new DCSA chief is a former paratrooper who joined the Army Security under recommendation from former Minister of National Defense, General Khaled Nezzar. Born in Guelma, Chouiter has held several senior positions within the Army Security. He was regional director in Oran, then in Blida, before working as defense attaché in Niger. He was also responsible for army security in the ground forces, before heading the Béni-Messous intelligence school.

Chouiter’s appointment thwarts the reinstatement of General Abdelkader Ait Ouarabi, also known as Hassen, former head of the Operational Coordination and Counter-Terrorist Intelligence Service (Scorat), dismissed and imprisoned in 2015. He was expected to hold this position in a bigger scheme of recomposing the old superstructure that topped the Algerian intelligence services.

This repositioning is being led from the Algerian presidency by General Mansour Benamara (aka Hadj Redouane), the former cabinet director of General Toufik who was appointed as advisor to President Tebboune in 2020. It began with releasing Army Corps General Mohamed Mediene (Toufik), the former chief of the DRS, as well as M’henna Djebbar. These were followed by the acquittal of Hassen and Medjoub Kehal (Djamel), the former general director of security and presidential protection (DGSPP).

The process culminated with the appointments of Djamel and M’henna respectively at DGSI and DGDSE, two agencies that were headed by senior officers from battle corps. 

But Hassen is the closest general to Toufik. His appointment was supposed to conclude the recomposition of the former DRS and to put an end to the Ahmed Gaid Salah sequence. It is worth recalling that Ahmed Gaid Salah had dismantled this mega department and put its agencies under the tutelage of the army’s general staff and the Algerian presidency. 

That was in 2015. Ahmed Gaid Salah relied on Athmane Tartag (Bachir), his advising engineer, for this “restructuring” that began in 2013 in the aftermath of the giant hostage taking at the Tiguentourine gas plant, which was perceived by the decision makers at the time as an intelligence fiasco. 

Following that hostage incident, Toufik scapegoated Bachir, then head of Interior Security (DSI). The latter was recruited by the Presidency as a security adviser and initiated the dismissal of Toufik with the support of the army’s general staff. The Bouteflikas, who were blaming Toufik for his “coldness” surrounding the idea of a fourth presidential term, unproblematically validated the plan. 

The duo Ahmed Gaid Salah-Athmane Tartag thus dismantled the DRS and placed its agencies under the tutelage of the Presidency and the army’s general staff. This was done with dismissals and prison sentences. Hassen and Djamel were tried and sentenced and M’henna, then central director of the army’s security, was dismissed. 

Intelligence senior officers put on a show

From 2015 to 2019 when deceased president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was pushed to resign, intelligence services saw a certain stability, at least when it came to their leadership. The work of DGSI (counter-espionage) and DGDSI (espionage) as well as technical intelligence were coordinated from the Presidency by Tartag. The DCSA was put under the army’s general staff. 

But the downfall of Bouteflika under street pressure made the intelligence services implode. Urged by the Bouteflikas to find a solution to the crisis induced by the former president’s wish to seek a fifth term, Toufik refused to meet with Tartag. He even mentioned him with contempt in a statement, depicting him as a “small intelligence agent”. Toufik never forgave him for the dismantling of the DRS and for his dismissal in 2015. 

Ahmed Gaid Salah also thought that Tartag was not informing him of what the Bouteflikas and Toufik were plotting during their meetings. And he ended up imprisoning both spymasters. He also authorized Khaled Nezzar, who distanced himself from those secret meetings in a published letter, to leave the country on a GLAM plane. That was the prelude to a waltz of leaders almost every 6 months at the top of intelligence agencies. 

During three years, the DCSA and the DGDSE consumed 6 chiefs each, the DGSI saw 4 of them come and go. A good chunk of them came from the battle corps. The army’s general staff was hoping to bring some discipline among intelligence top officers. It found itself an arbiter among rivals and settling scores amid the Hirak movement. Intelligence top officers regularly put on a show through opposing groups of protesters and bloggers. 

The slogan “mokhabarat Abla” (1) versus “moukhabarat irhabia” (2) and “zouaves” versus “badissi novembari” slowly gave way, with Hirak protests coming to a halt, to live broadcast from abroad exposing the private and professional lives of intelligence top officers. 

Every new appointment is preceded by a smear campaign and followed by a purge and/or a wave of arrests among the ranks of the affected agency or service. The latest changes did not escape this rule. Dozens of officers were auditioned by military justice on interfering within the political sphere.  A lot of them received a proper lynching through the designated bloggers and YouTube channels of rival factions. 

If the rehabilitation of Toufik, Hassen and M’henna was supposed to appease tensions caused by their imprisonment, the appointment of the latter two to head two important agencies hopes to bring some discipline to their ranks. And the serenity necessary to consolidate the power of President Tebboune in view of a second term. 

In short, there is no consensus around a superstructure that would constitute the third pole of power, similar to the configuration under Bouteflika. The regime traded that “tripod” for two crutches since Bouteflika’s fourth term. The lines have not moved since. Neither Tebboune nor the army’s chief of staff, army general Said Chengriha, seem ready to share their power.


  1. “Moukhabarat abla yahagrou zaouali”: hinting to the main center of operations (CPO) of the DGSI, commonly known as the Antar barricade. The slogan accuses it of only monitoring the little people and subjecting them to injustice. 
  2. “moukhabarat irhabia taskot el mafia el askaria”:  hinting to the main military center of investigations (CPMI) which was on the first line of the anti-terrorist fight before the creation of Scorat. The slogan mainly accuses it of terrorism and accuses its members of behaving like mafiosi.