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Pacification of Algeria

Pacification of Algeria
Part of French colonial campaigns

Monument to the French Foreign Légionnaires who died during the South-Oranese campaign
Date 1835-1903
Location Algeria
Result French victory
France Arabs and Berbers
Commanders and leaders
General Bugeaud
Maréchal Randon
Abd El-Kader
Lalla Fatma N'Soumer
Cheik El Mokrani

Following the conquest of the Regency of Algiers, the Pacification of Algeria consists of a series of military operations which aimed to put an end to various tribal rebellions, razzias and massacres of French settlers, which were sporadically held in the Algerian countryside. The pacification of Algeria is an early example of unconventional warfare.


  • Background 1
  • Campaigns 2
    • First Campaign against Abd-el-Kader (1835-1837) 2.1
    • Second Campaign against Abd-el-Kader (1839-1847) 2.2
    • Campaign of Kabylie (1857) 2.3
    • Campaign against El-Mokrani (1871) 2.4
    • Conquest of the Sahara (1881-1902) 2.5
    • South-Oranese Campaign (1897-1903) 2.6
  • References 3


After the capture of Algiers by France and the defeat of Ottoman troops, France invaded the rest of the country. The end of military resistance to the French presence did not mean that the region was totally conquered. France faced several tribal rebellions, settlers massacres and razzias in French Algeria. To eliminate the rebellion, many campaigns and "colonisation" operations were conducted for nearly 70 years, from 1835-1903.


First Campaign against Abd-el-Kader (1835-1837)

Tribal elders in the territories near Mascara chose twenty-five-year-old `Abd al-Qādir (Abd-el-Kader), to lead the jihad against the French. Abd al-Qādir, who was recognized as Amir al-Muminin (commander of the faithful), quickly gained the support of tribes in the western territories. In 1834 he concluded a treaty with General Desmichels, who was then military commander of the province of Oran. In the treaty, which was reluctantly accepted by the French administration, France recognized Abd al-Qādir as the sovereign of territories in Oran province not under French control, and authorized Abd al-Qādir to send consuls to French-held cities. The treaty did not require Abd al-Qādir to recognize French rule, something glossed over in its French text. Abd al-Qādir used the peace provided by this treaty to widen his influence with tribes throughout western and central Algeria.

While d'Erlon was apparently unaware of the danger posed by Abd al-Qādir's activities, General Camille Alphonse Trézel, then in command at Oran, did see it, and attempted to separate some of the tribes from Abd al-Qādir. When he succeeded in convincing two tribes near Oran to acknowledge French supremacy, Abd al-Qādir dispatched troops to move those tribes to the interior, away from French influence. Trézel countered by marching a column of troops out from Oran to protect the territory of those tribes on 16 June 1835. After exchanging threats, Abd al-Qādir withdrew his consul from Oran and ejected the French consul from Mascara, a de facto declaration of war. The two forces clashed in a bloody but inconclusive engagement near the Sig River. However, when the French, who were short on provisions, began withdrawing toward Arzew, al-Qādir led 20,000 men against the beleaguered column, and in the Battle of Macta routed the force, killing 500 men. The debacle led to the recall of Comte d'Erlon.

General Clausel was appointed a second time to replace d'Erlon. He led an attack against Mascara in December of that year, which Abd al-Qādir, with advance warning, had evacuated. In January 1836 he occupied Tlemcen, and established a garrison there before return to Algiers to plan an attack against Constantine. Abd al-Qādir continued to harry the French at Tlemcen, so additional troops under Thomas Robert Bugeaud, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars experienced in irregular warfare were sent from Oran to secure control up to the Tafna River and to resupply the garrison. Abd al-Qādir retreated before Bugeaud, but decided to make a stand on the banks of the Sikkak River. On July 6, 1836, Bugeaud decisively defeated al-Qādir in the Battle of Sikkak, losing less than fifty men to more than 1,000 casualties suffered by Abd al-Qādir. The battle was one of the few formal battles al-Qādir engaged in; after the loss he restricted his actions as much as possible to guerilla-style attacks.

In May 1837, General Thomas Robert Bugeaud, then in command of Oran, negotiated the Treaty of Tafna with al-Qādir, in which he effectively recognized al-Qādir's control over much of the interior of what is now Algeria.

Second Campaign against Abd-el-Kader (1839-1847)

Al-Qādir used the treaty of Tafna to consolidate his power over tribes throughout the interior, establishing new cities far from French control. He worked to motivate the population under French control to resist by peaceful and military means. Seeking to again face the French, he laid claim under the treaty to territory that included the main route between Algiers and Constantine. When French troops contested this claim in late 1839 by marching through a mountain defile known as the Iron Gates, al-Qādir claimed a breach of the treaty, and renewed calls for jihad. Throughout 1840 he waged guerilla war against the French in the provinces of Algiers and Oran, which Valée's failures to adequately deal with led to his replacement in December 1840 by General Bugeaud.

Bugeaud instituted a strategy of scorched earth, combined with fast-moving cavalry columns not unlike those used by al-Qādir to progressively take territory from al-Qādir. The troops' tactics were heavy-handed, and the population suffered significantly. Al-Qādir was eventually forced to establish a mobile headquarters that was known as a smala or zmelah. In 1843 French forces successfully raided this camp while he was away from it, capturing more than 5,000 fighters and al-Qādir's warchest.

Al-Qādir was forced to retreat into Morocco, from which he had been receiving some support, especially from tribes in the border areas. When French diplomatic efforts to convince Morocco to expel al-Qādir failed, the French resorted to military means with the First Franco-Moroccan War in 1844 to compel the sultan to change his policy.

Eventually hemmed between French and Moroccan troops on the border in December 1847, al-Qādir chose to surrender to the French, under terms that he be allowed to enter exile in the Middle East. The French violated these terms, holding him France until 1852, when he was allowed to go to Damascus.

Campaign of Kabylie (1857)

Campaign against El-Mokrani (1871)

Conquest of the Sahara (1881-1902)

South-Oranese Campaign (1897-1903)

In the early twentieth century, France faced numerous incidents, attacks and looting by uncontrolled armed groups, in the newly occupied areas in the south of Oran (Algeria).[1] Under the command of General Lyautey, the French army's mission was to protect these areas newly controlled in the west of Algeria, near the poorly defined Moroccan boundaries.[2]

This loose boundary, between French Algeria and the Sultanate of Morocco, promotes incursions and attacks perpetrated by Moroccan tribesmen.[3]

On 17 August 1903, the first battle of the South-Oranese campaign took place in Taghit, where French Foreign legionnaires were assailed by a contingent of more than 1,000 well-equipped Berbers.[4] For 3 days, the legionnaires repelled repeated attacks of an enemy more than 10 times higher in number, and inflicted huge losses on the attackers, forcing them finally into a hasty retreat.[5]

A few months after the Battle of Taghit, 148 legionnaires of the 22nd mounted company, from the 2e REI, commanded by Captain Vauchez and Lieutenant Selchauhansen, 20 Spahis and 2 Mokhaznis, forming part of escorting a supply convoy, were ambushed, on September 2, by 3,000 Moroccans marauders, at El-Moungar.[6]


  1. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
  2. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
  3. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
  4. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
  5. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
  6. ^ by the French Ministry of DefenceHistorique de la bataille d'El Moungar
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