Algerian generals, others fired without explanation

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Heads have been rolling in the Algerian army, the North African nation’s most respected institution, and in other security services, with generals in top posts fired – without explanation – at a rate never before seen.

The across-the-board changes, and the silence, are highlighting the opaque nature of the nation’s power structure.

Since late June, nearly all top officials in the security hierarchy have been replaced. The changes are especially dramatic in a country with the best-equipped military in North Africa and the Sahel that has honed for more than a quarter-century its skills in fighting extremists. Today, Algeria is a bulwark against extremism for the West.

Yet the noisy Algerian press, which habitually decodes the often inscrutable world of politics, has been unable to decipher the reason for the massive clearout.

Is a scandal surrounding a huge cocaine seizure the reason for at least some of the firings, or is it a about traditional rivalries among powerful clans? Or are the changes connected to next April’s presidential elections, which is the subject of another mystery — who is running? No candidate has yet emerged because everyone is waiting to learn whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 81, partially paralysed and rarely seen in public, will seek a fifth term.

Algerian chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah. – AP

Such changes in the military hierarchy, only some of which have been announced publicly, are the prerogative of the President, who is also Minister of Defence. But the influence of the army is a perennial mystery.

The wave of changes began with the firing on June 26 of General Abdelghani Hamel, head of the General Directorate of National Security, the top echelon of Algeria’s police. Along with Hamel went the men he had placed in more than a half-dozen top regional police posts, from Algiers, the capital, to Setif, in the east — as well as the commander in charge of Algiers’ international airport.

The most recent to be axed were the Air Force commander and the head of the Air Defence Force, announced last week by the Defence Ministry.

The ousting of Hamel, who had held the top police post since 2010, may — or may not — be linked to the May seizure by the Coast Guard in the port of Oran of 701 kilogrammes of cocaine hidden among frozen meat on a cargo ship from Brazil, and his harsh words directed to the gendarmerie investigating the affair. However, eight days after Hamel’s ouster, it was the gendarmerie chief, Major General Menad Nouba, who lost his job.

The sword then fell on the top brass of the army, the backbone of the Algerian state. Region by region, top leaders were removed. Only one of the six military regions has been left untouched.

“No one is indispensable,” said political sociologist Nasser Djabi, “even the all-powerful.” He recalled the removal in 2015 of one of Algeria’s most powerful figures, intelligence chief General Mediene, known as Toufik, after 25 years on the job.