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The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and TerrorismThe Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism


The Battle of Algiers (1966)


Famous for...

  • Being a classic film about terrorism
  • Being used by the Pentagon in 2003 after the Iraq War to show how winning the war doesn’t necessarily win the peace (through losing local people’s support).


Based on...The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

The Battle of Algiers (the capital of Algeria, then a French colony) from November 1954 to December 1960

This happened during the Algerian War (1954-62) in which the native (Arab) Algerians fought the French for independence.

The Algerians were led by the terrorist group, the National Liberation Front or Front de Libération Nationale, FLN - its logo is pictured right. 


Who won the battle?

The French army but its brutality increased the FLN's desire for independence

There were heavy casualties on both sides (over 300,000 for the FLN and 90,000 for the French).



Gillo Pontecorvo




 The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

Key characters

Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), petty criminal and FLN recruit.

Lahadi Jaffer (Saadi Yacef, pictured right), FLN military commander – the character was based on Yacef himself, one of FLN’s leaders.

Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), French paratrooper.


The story

Ali La Pointe (a peasant and petty criminal, pictured right):The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

  • sees the execution in prison of a FNL rebel.
  • joins its fight against French rule in Algiers.
  • meets the FNL leader, Ben M’Hidi and one of his deputies, Lahadi Jaffer

The French bomb the Kasbah (where the native Arab Algerians live)

In retaliation, female Algerian bombers kill and maim innocent French women and children.

The French government responds by sending to Algiers a paratrooper division, led by Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu (pictured right below).The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

The war escalates with bombings and killings on both sides, and the FNL organizes an eight day peaceful general strike in an attempt to win the support of world opinion and the United Nations.

A racecourse is bombed, killing many French people.


  • says that French political support for the war is vital (attacking anti-war campaigners like the philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, pictured right below in 1960).
  • defends his use of torture to gain useful information from the FNL. The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism
  • captures Lahadi Jaffer and Ben M’Hidi (who dies in prison in suspicious circumstances).

Ali La Pointe is blown up because of information given by a tortured Algerian (whose interrogation was shown at the start of the film).

There is then relative calm for two years until 1960 when civil unrest flares up again.

After two years of further fighting, the FNL wins Algerian independence from France on 2nd July 1962.


Lessons for strategy and terrorism

 The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

1. Consent is crucial

The French alienated native Algerians by trying to impose colonial rule on them. This made it impossible for them to rule Algeria, because they lost people’s support.

Mathieu’s military success (helped by torture) only causes further discontent and finally independence.

The French wrongly believed that the FNL only had minority support.

 The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

2. Different objectives lead to conflict

War was inevitable between the French and the FLN, because:

  • their aims were incompatible.
  • they weren’t prepared to negotiate.


3. War is horrific

The war escalated, fuelled by:The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

  • revenge.
  • increasing anger on both sides.

The FNL leader, Ben M’Hidi commented that women with bombs in their baskets were equivalent to French military action.

“Give me the bombers [the French] and you can have the baskets”, M'Hidi says.

 The Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

4. Know your enemy

Mathieu’s aim is to identify and destroy the enemy.

But he can’t easily identify the enemy, because the FNL works in cells of three people who don’t know anybody else in the organization.


5. Information is vitalThe Battle of Algiers - Strategy and Terrorism

Mathieu realizes that information can defeat the FNL, so he controversially supports the use of torture in interrogation.


Key quotes on strategy and terrorism

It’s hard to start a revolution, even harder to continue it and hardest of all to win it, Ben M’Hidi.

You don’t win wars with outrages, Ben M’Hidi (on the importance of non-violent action).

The basis of our job is information, Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu.


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)


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