Army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah continues to strengthen his position in both the army and the country. This week he moved to rid the parity that existed between army and gendarmerie ranks by reducing ranking levels in the gendarmerie. For example, there will no longer be any police major-generals and the highest rank will be that of general who will be the head of the national gendarmerie. The police chiefs in the six military regions will now carry the rank of Colonel while the gendarmerie head in a wilaya will carry the rank of lieutenant colonel or commandant.
One effect of this is to make sure that there will not be a situation where a gendarme officer might outrank his army regional counterpart. For example, as things were, there were instances of the regional head of the gendarmerie being a major general while the head of the army in the same region was only a general. Consequently creating the difficult scenario of how a major general could take orders from a general.
Thus — in all the six military regions — the army commander, who will be a general or major general, will now always outrank the head of the gendarmerie in the region who will only be a colonel.
The implications of this are that the army will now have much more control over the police, which, in turn, will be more directly under the control of the Chief of Army Staff who is, of course, Gaïd Salah. It will also make the gendarmerie less independent.
In terms of the size of these respective forces, the national gendarmerie numbers around 180,000-185,000 men, while the army has approximately 320,000 so the combined force is over 500,000 men.
This now makes Gaïd Salah the most powerful man in the country for some time, but probably not as powerful as either the former defence minister Khaled Nezzar — who effectively oversaw the coup d’état of 1992 — or the former Army Chief of Staff Mohammed Lamari who was ‘retired’ in 2004. This is because they had control over all the generals whereas currently there are perhaps 20 or so generals under the command of or loyal to the Presidency. These would include: General Benali Benali who heads the Presidential Guard; and General Athmane ‘Bachir’ Tartag who now runs the Département de Surveillance et de Sécurité (DSS). Our sources consider that Gaïd Salah’s current power is about 80% of what it was for Nezzar and Lamari.
Although Gaïd Salah has moved to make his position even more secure and powerful, our conclusion about his presidential ambitions are the same. We think that he is more inclined to play the role of king-maker than put himself forward for the Presidency.
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