Major-General Ammar Athamnia has been appointed as Commander of Land Forces to replace Major General Saïd Chengriha who, in turn, replaced the late General Ahmed Gaïd Salah as Chief of the General Staff. In turn, Major-General Noureddine Hambli has replaced Athamnia as commander of the 5th Military Region (Constantine).
Athamnia’s appointment came as a something of a surprise. Many assumed that the post would go to the commander of the 3rd Military Region, Mostefa Smaâli, or remain in the hands of the current incumbent Omar Tlemsani. The post is a strategic one because traditionally its holder is next in line to be Army Chief of Staff. Some have explained that Athamnia was chosen because of his knowledge of the security situation in the south of the country which is threatened by the current crises in Libya and the Sahel. Between 2004 and 2015, he was the deputy and then commander of the 6th Military Region covering the southern half of the country. He also demonstrated a certain political savvy when he took charge of the In Salah negotiations in 2015 which ended several weeks of protests against shale gas exploration which had taken a violent turn.
Despite these positive reasons, Menas Associates believes that Athamnia’s promotion has more to do with his role in the Dirty War of the 1990s and this was reinforced by another very significant move in the security and intelligence services, which was gazetted on 19 February. This was the appointment of retired Major-General Abdelaziz Medjahed as a Special Advisor to the President on military and security issues.
Medjahed retired in 2003 following a disagreement with Army Chief of Staff General Mohamed Lamari. We understand that his appointment was effectively made by Chengriha, but why would a general be brought back 17 years after he had retired? Some who know him described him as a ‘well-oiled transmission belt’ between the President and Army Chief of Staff.
The reason for Medjahed’s totally unexpected appointment is that he — together with Athamnia and Chengriha — ‘have blood on their hands’ and very questionable records of having committed war crimes in the 1990s. Medjahed was head of the Bouïra operational sector until at least 1995 when he took over as director of the Cherchell Military Academy. While in he was in Bouïra, General Lamari directed him to create an ‘operational anti-subversive centre’ (COLAS), a ‘terrorist elimination’ operation, in the Lakhdaria region. His second-in-command was Colonel Saïd Chengriha. Together, they committed serious war crimes in the Lakhdaria area and murdered many innocent civilians. One of the officers serving directly under Chengriha — and who witnessed and recorded many of the war crimes committed by the two men — was 2nd Lt. Habib Souaïdia who later wrote La Sale Guerre (The Dirty War) which was published by La Découverte in 2001.
Five days after General Gaïd Salah’s death, on 28 December, key sections from La Sale Guerre detailing Chengriha’s and Medjahed’s crimes were republished by Algeria-Watch. The extracts were widely circulated in Algeria on social media. It is therefore almost certain that Tebboune was aware of these crimes when he appointed Chengriha as Army Chief of Staff and therefore confirm Tebboune’s support for these ‘eradicator’ generals. Similarly, he would also have been fully aware of Medjahed’s key involvement in these war crimes.
So, why do both Chengriha and Tebboune want Medjahed, a very senior military general, back in the fold? We believe that the answer is the same as why Athamnia was promoted. It is because Chengriha wants to be surrounded by powerful generals from the Dirty War that he can trust. He is aware of the danger posed by the head of the Direction de la sécurité intérieure (DSI), General Bouazza Ouassini, and wants a powerful figure like Medjahed to set against him. If this analysis is correct, we anticipate a career change, or perhaps something worse, for Ouassini in the not too distant future.