The Western Sahara War (Arabic: حرب الصحراء الغربية, French: Guerre du Sahara occidental, Spanish: Guerra del Sahara Occidental) was an armed struggle between the Sahrawi indigenous Polisario Front and Morocco between 1975 and 1991, being the most significant phase of the Western Sahara conflict. The conflict erupted after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords (signed under the pressure of the Green March), by which it transferred administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, but not the sovereignty. In late 1975, the Moroccan government organized the Green March of some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who entered Western Sahara, trying to establish a Moroccan presence. While at first met with just minor resistance by the POLISARIO, Morocco later engaged a long period of guerrilla warfare with the Sahrawi nationalists. During the late 1970s, the Polisario Front, desiring to establish an independent state in the territory, attempted to fight both Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict after signing a peace treaty with the POLISARIO. The war continued in low intensity throughout the 1980s, though Morocco made several attempts to take the upper hand in 1989–1991. A cease-fire agreement was finally reached between the Polisario Front and Morocco in September 1991. Some sources put the final death toll between 10,000 and 20,000 people.
The conflict has since shifted from military to civilian resistance. A peace process, attempting to resolve the conflict has yet produced any permanent solution to Sahrawi refugees and territorial agreement between Morocco and the Sahrawi Republic. Today most of the territory of Western Sahara is under Moroccan control, while the inland parts are governed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, managed by the Polisario Front.
|Western Sahara War|
|Part of The Western Sahara conflict|
Map of the Western Sahara; the red line is the military berm built by Morocco
France (1977–78, Operation Lamantin, aid from 1978)
Polisario Front / SADR|
Algeria (1976, Amgala battle, aid from 1976)
|Commanders and leaders|
(Supreme Commander and Chief-of-Staff)
Mokhtar Ould Daddah
Mustafa Ould Salek
Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah
Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya
Mohamed Ould Bah Ould Abdelkader
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Michel Claude Forget
Morocco: 30,000 (1976) – 60,000 (1980) – 150,000 (1988) – 120,000 (1991)|
Mauritania: 3,000-5,000 (1976) – 12,000 (1977) – 18,000 (1978)
|5,000 (1976) – 15,000 (1980) – 8,000 (1988)|
|Casualties and losses|
More than 3,000 Sahrawis killed (Eckhardt,1985)
3 West German pilots killed – 80,000 (1977) Sahrawis displaced
In 1884 Spain claimed a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cap Blanc. Later, the Spanish extended their area of control. In 1958 Spain joined the previously separate districts of Saguia el-Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara.
Raids and rebellions by the indigenous Saharan population kept the Spanish forces out of much of the territory for a long time. Ma al-Aynayn, the Saharan caïd of Smara, started an uprising against the French in the 1910s, at a time when France had expanded its influence and control in North-West Africa, he died in the same year and his son El Hiba succeeded him. French forces defeated him when he tried to conquer Marrakesh, and in retaliation destroyed the holy city of Smara in 1913. Not until the second destruction of Smara in 1934, by joint Spanish and French forces, did the territory finally become subdued. Another uprising in 1956 – 1958, initiated by the Moroccan Army of Liberation, led to heavy fighting, but eventually the Spanish forces regained control, again with French aid. However, unrest simmered, and in 1967 the Harakat Tahrir arose to challenge Spanish rule peacefully. After the events of the Zemla Intifada in 1970, when Spanish police destroyed the organization and "disappeared" its founder, Muhammad Bassiri, Sahrawi nationalism again took a militant turn.
In 1971 a group of young Sahrawi students began organizing what came to be known as The Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro. After attempting in vain to gain backing from several Arab governments, including both Algeria and Morocco, but only drawing faint notices of support from Libya and Mauritania, the movement eventually relocated to Spanish-controlled Western Sahara to start an armed rebellion.
The Polisario Front was formally constituted on 10 May 1973 in the Mauritanian city of Zouirate, with the express intention of militarily forcing an end to Spanish colonization. Its first Secretary General was El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed. On 20 May he led the Khanga raid, Polisario's first armed action, in which a Spanish post manned by a team of Tropas Nomadas (Sahrawi-staffed auxiliary forces) was overrun and rifles seized. Polisario then gradually gained control over large swaths of desert countryside, and its power grew from early 1975 when the Tropas Nomadas began deserting to the Polisario, bringing weapons and training with them. At this point, Polisario's manpower included perhaps 800 men, but they were backed by a larger network of supporters. A UN visiting mission headed by Simeon Aké that was conducted in June 1975 concluded that Sahrawi support for independence (as opposed to Spanish rule or integration with a neighbouring country) amounted to an "overwhelming consensus" and that the Polisario Front was by far the most powerful political force in the country.
While Spain started negotiating a handover of power in the summer of 1975, it ceded the administrative control of the territory to Mauritania and Morocco only after signing the Madrid Accords. However, on 31 October 1975, Moroccan troops crossed into the territory from the north-east, advancing towards Mahbes and Farciya.
Moroccan government organized the Green March of some 350,000 Moroccan citizens, escorted by around 20,000 troops, who entered Western Sahara, trying to establish Moroccan presence. While, at first meeting just minor resistance by the Polisario, Morocco had later engaged in a long guerrilla warfare with the Sahrawi nationalists. During the late 1970s, After Moroccan pressure through the Green March of 6 November, Spain entered negotiations that led to the signing of the Madrid Accords by which it ceded unilaterally the administrative control of the territory to Mauritania and Morocco on November 14, 1975. The United Nations did not recognize the accord, considering Spain as the administrative power of the territory. In the fall of 1975, as a result of the Moroccan advance, tens of thousands of Sahrawis fled Morocco-controlled cities into the desert, building up improvised refugee camps in Amgala, Tifariti and Umm Dreiga.
On December 11, 1975, the first Moroccan troops arrived in El Aaiún, and fighting erupted with the POLISARIO. On December 20, Mauritanian troops succeeded taking over Tichy and La Güera, after two weeks of siege. On January 27, the first battle of Amgala erupted between Morocco and Algeria with the Polisario.
In January 1976, the Royal Moroccan Air Force also bombed the refugee camps in the northern part of the territory. The following month, Moroccan jets attacked the Umm Dreiga refugee camps with napalm and white phosphorus bombs, killing thousands of civilians.
On February 26, 1976, Spain officially announced its full withdrawal from the area.
The Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27 February 1976 and waged a guerrilla war against both Morocco and Mauritania. The World Court at the Hague had issued its verdict on the former Spanish colony just weeks before, which each party interpreted as confirming its rights on the disputed territory. After the completion of the Spanish withdrawal, and in the application of the Madrid Accords in 1976, Morocco took over the Saguia El Hamra and the northern two-thirds of the territory, while Mauritania took control of the southern third. It was ratified on 14 April 1976 agreement.
The Polisario Front retaliated the Moroccan offensive with guerrilla attacks, and moved their base to Tindouf in western Algeria, where first refugee camps were established in May 1976. For the next two years the Polisario movement grew tremendously, as Sahrawi refugees flocked to the camps fleeing from the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies, while Algeria and Libya supplied arms and funding.
Within months after the 1975–1976 Moroccan offensive, Polisario had expanded to thousands of armed fighters. The reorganized army was able to inflict severe damage through guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against Moroccan forces in Western Sahara but also raided cities and towns in Morocco and Mauritania proper.
Mauritania, under the regime of Ould Daddah, had a weakened army of 3,000 men, which was unable to fend off the attacks. After repeated strikes at the country's principal source of income, the iron mines of Zouerate, the government was nearly incapacitated by the lack of funds and the ensuing internal disorder. Ethnic unrest in the Mauritanian Armed Forces also strongly contributed to the ineffectiveness of the army: forcibly conscripted black Africans from the south of the country resisted getting involved in what they viewed as a northern intra-Arab dispute, and the tribes of northern Mauritania often sympathized with Polisario, fearing possible Moroccan regional ambitions and presenting perceived increasing dependence of the Daddah regime on Moroccan support.
In 1977, France intervened after a group of French technicians was taken prisoner during a raid on the Zouerate iron mines, codenaming its involvement Opération Lamantin. The French Air Force deployed SEPECAT Jaguar jets to Mauritania in 1978 under the orders of President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, which repeatedly bombed Polisario columns headed for Mauritania with napalm. The Polisario Front launched a raid on the capital Nouakchott, during which Polisario leader El Ouali was killed, and was replaced by Mohamed Abdelaziz, with no letup in the pace of attacks. Under continued pressure, the Daddah regime finally fell in 1978 to a coup d'état led by war-weary military officers, who immediately agreed to a cease fire with the Polisario. A comprehensive peace treaty was signed on August 5, 1979, in which the new government recognized Sahrawi rights to Western Sahara and relinquished its own claims. Mauritania withdrew all its forces and would later proceed to formally recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, causing a massive rupture in relations with Morocco. King Hassan II of Morocco immediately claimed the area of Western Sahara evacuated by Mauritania (Tiris al-Gharbiya, roughly corresponding to the southern half of Río de Oro), which was unilaterally annexed by Morocco in August 1979. 
From the mid-1980s Morocco largely had kept Polisario troops off by building a huge berm or sand wall (the Moroccan Wall). The Moroccan army stationed a number of troops roughly the same size as the entire Sahrawi population to defend the wall, enclosing the Southern Provinces, the economically useful parts of Western Sahara (Bou Craa, El-Aaiun, Smara etc.). This stalemated the war, with no side able to achieve decisive gains, but artillery strikes and sniping attacks by the guerrillas continued, and Morocco was economically and politically strained by the war. Morocco faced heavy burdens due to the economic costs of its massive troop deployments along the Wall. Economic and military aid was sent to Morocco by Saudi Arabia, France and the United States to relieve the situation, but matters gradually became unsustainable for all parties involved.
On 7 October 1989, Polisario launched a massive attack against Moroccan troops in Guelta Zemmour (Centre of Western Sahara) and Algeria, but sustained heavy casualties and withdrawn after leaving more than 18 tanks burning and a dozen more vehicles. This setback let the Polisario consider a ceasefire.
1991 Tifariti offensive was the last military operation and successful maneuver in Western Sahara War launched by Moroccan forces against the Sahrawi guerrilla fighters of the Polisario Front. During August–September 1991 the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) conducted offensive operations in the areas of Mehaires, Tifariti, and Bir Lahlou and cleared the area of any Polisario presence.
A cease-fire between the Polisario and Morocco, monitored by MINURSO (UN) has come into effect on 6 September 1991, with the promise of a referendum on independence the following year. The referendum, however, stalled over disagreements on voter rights, and numerous attempts at restarting the process (most significantly the launching of the 2003 Baker plan) seem to have failed. The prolonged cease-fire has held without major disturbances, but Polisario has repeatedly threatened to resume fighting if no break-through occurs. Morocco's withdrawal from both the terms of the original Settlement Plan and the Baker Plan negotiations in 2003 left the peace-keeping mission without a political agenda: this further increased the risks of renewed war.
On 25 June 1975, two reconnaissance planes from the Spanish Air Force were attacked by Moroccan forces near the Spanish Sahara-Morocco border.
On 17 January 1980, the Spanish SPS Almirante Ferrandiz (D22) destroyer was machine-gunned by a Moroccan Mirage airfighter, 5 miles away the southern coast of Western Sahara. The Spanish destroyer had received a S.O.S. from a Spanish fishing vessel that had been previously detained by a Moroccan patrol boat.
On 24 February 1985, the Polar 3, a Dornier 228-type research airplane from the Alfred Wegener Institute was shot down by guerrillas of the Polisario Front over Western Sahara. All three crew members died. Polar 3, together with unharmed Polar 2, was on its way back from Antarctica and had taken off in Dakar, Senegal, to reach Arrecife, Canary Islands. The German government, which did not recognize Morocco's claim to Western Sahara at the time and remained neutral in the conflict, heavily criticized the incident.
In 1984, Polisario shot down a Belgian, and two Moroccan aircraft.
Abdelfattah Louarak (Arabic: عبد الفتاح الوراق; born c. 1955 ) is a Moroccan army General. On 18 January 2017, he was appointed by king Mohammed VI as the professional chief-of-staff of the Moroccan army (Inspector of the Armed Forces), succeeding in this capacity, General Bouchaib Arroub.
Louarak was promoted by the king to the rank of 4 star general (Général de Corps d'Armée) on 31 July 2017.Not much is known about Louarak's career other than what a news website close to the Moroccan king's secretary Mounir Majidi published in an article, which claims that Louarak was part of the 11th mechanized infantry regiment during the Western Sahara war and then was appointed in charge of human resources in the 3rd bureau, which Arroub headed for long time.Algeria–Mauritania relations
Algeria–Mauritania relations is the relationship between two neighboring Arab Maghreb countries, Algeria and Mauritania. The relationship between two countries is often characterized as friendly, although there were several political standoffs between two countries in the past like the Western Sahara War, which Mauritania and Morocco together invaded the region, while Algeria opposed it and supported the Polisario Front. Nonetheless, weaker and poorer than Algeria in every aspect, Mauritania ceded their claims and restored tie with Algeria.Algeria has an embassy in Nouakchott while Mauritania has an embassy in Algiers.Algeria–Morocco relations
Algeria–Morocco relations have been dominated by several issues since their independence, particularly the 1963 Sand War, the Western Sahara War of 1975-1991, the closing of the Algeria-Morocco border in 1994, and the status of Western Sahara.Amgala
Amgala is an oasis in Western Sahara. It is located between Tifariti and Smara, outside the Moroccan Wall in the area controlled by the Polisario.Auxiliary Forces
The Moroccan Auxiliary Forces (Berber: Idwasen Imawwasen or Imxazniyen; Arabic: القوات المساعدة Al-Quwwāt al-Musā`idah; French: Forces Auxiliaires Marocaines) is a paramilitary force following the command of the Ministry of the Interior, and supplements the military, Gendarmerie and police when needed. It also participated in military conflicts like the Western Sahara war.Additionally, they contribute to maintaining order and they are also present as border watch, and are the main backup force for firefighters during forest fires. During the Years of Lead, custody facilities such as Tazmamart and Agdz were mainly operated by elements of the auxiliary forces.
The Auxiliary forces are a continuation of a low-rank military unit composed of Senegalese Tirailleurs and Goumiers, used by the French during the protectorate area, to repress Moroccans. Since the official French police patrolled only in the European area, this unit was responsible for maintaining order in the Moroccan neighbourhoods.
They are known colloquially as the mroud (a Berber word for a type of Grasshopper), mkhaznia (from Makhzen) or as imkhazniyn in Berber.Battle of Amgala (1989)
The 1989 Battle of Amgala took place on 8 November 1989, when two POLISARIO mechanized columns launched a massive attack against Moroccan troops in the Amgala region, managing to cross the Moroccan Wall and advance twenty kilometers in direction to Smara, to finally retreat before Moroccan retaliation to their positions in the Free Zone (region).It was the last military operation of the Western Sahara War until Operation Rattle in 1991.Brahim Ghali
Brahim Ghali () (Arabic: إبراهيم غالي, Spanish: Brahim Gali; born 16 September 1949) is the current president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and former SADR Ambassador to Algeria. Ghali has served as an historic figure and played a key role in the struggle of the Sahrawi people for self-determination and independence from Morocco. He was instrumental in the creation of the Movement for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Wadi el Dhahab, the 1970 Zemla Intifada against Spanish rule, the foundation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front) in 1973, and the Sahrawi Republic in 1976. He also played a major role in the Western Sahara War and establishment of MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping mission for the Western Sahara.Egypt–Morocco relations
Morocco-Egypt relations refers to the bilateral relations between the kingdom of Morocco and the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Since independence, the two nations have maintained warm relations. Both countries are members of the Arab League, GAFTA, WTO, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Council of Arab Economic Unity and the UN.Green March
The Green March was a strategic mass demonstration in November 1975, coordinated by the Moroccan government, to force Spain to hand over the disputed, autonomous semi-metropolitan province of Spanish Sahara to Morocco. The demonstration of some 350,000 Moroccans advanced several kilometres into the Western Sahara territory, escorted by nearly 20,000 Moroccan troops, and meeting very little response by the Sahrawi Polisario Front. Nevertheless, the events quickly escalated into a fully waged war between Morocco and the militias of the Polisario, the Western Sahara War, which would last for 16 years. Morocco later gained control over most of the former Spanish Sahara, which it continues to hold.La Güera
La Güera (Arabic: الكويرة al-Kūwayra; also known as La Agüera, Lagouira, El Gouera) is a ghost town on the Atlantic coast at the southern tip of Western Sahara, on the western side of the Ras Nouadhibou peninsula, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) west of Nouadhibou. It is also the name of a daira at the Sahrawi refugee camps in south-western Algeria.
It is the southernmost town of Western Sahara, claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco. La Güera is situated south of the Moroccan Wall, and is technically abandoned by both Moroccan and Polisario Front forces.Mahjoub Tobji
Mahjoub Tobji (Arabic: محجوب الطوبجي, born 1942 in Meknes) is a retired Commandant of the Royal Moroccan Army. He commanded a battalion of Sahrawi soldiers during the Western Sahara war and was the Aide-de-camp of General Ahmed Dlimi. Upon the death of the latter he was arbitrarily detained during 20 months and was able escape prison and fled to France. He went back to Morocco after he succeeded in meeting Hassan II during his vacations in France at the Hotel Le Crillon.In 2005, he wrote a book (French: Les Officiers de Sa Majesté) about the Moroccan army and its operations during deployments in the Yom Kippur war and Western Sahara. In this book he singled out General Housni Benslimane as the most powerful man in Morocco, responsible for his imprisonment and other exactions against Moroccan dissidents which were blamed on Driss Basri.After the publication of his book, he faced some intimidations in his exile in France. His pension was abruptly stopped in late 2012, and was only re-established after he went on a hunger-strike.Mauritania Islamic Air Force
The Air Force of Mauritania is the air force of the Armed Forces of Mauritania. It was established in 1960. Like
many of the former French colonies, Mauritania received limited economic and military aid from France. They started as a transport force with four C-47s,
two Aérospatiale N 262 and two Reims F337's.Morocco–Russia relations
Morocco–Russia relations (Arabic: علاقات مغربية روسية, Russian: Российско-марокканские отношения) is the bilateral relationship between Russia and Morocco.Morocco–Syria relations
Syrian–Moroccan relations refers to bilateral and political ties between Morocco and Syria.Royal Moroccan Air Force
The Royal Moroccan Air Force, RMAF, (Arabic: القوات الجوية الملكية; Berber: Adwas ujenna ageldan; French: Forces royales air) is the air force branch of the Moroccan Armed Forces.Sahrawi refugees
Sahrawi refugees refers to the refugees of the Western Sahara War (1975–1991) and their descendants, who are still mostly populating the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.Tifariti
Tifariti (Berber: Tifariti, Arabic: تيفاريتي) is an oasis town located in north-eastern Western Sahara, east of the Moroccan Berm, 138 km (86 mi) from Smara and 15 km (9 mi) north of the Mauritanian border. It is part of what Polisario Front call the Liberated Territories and Morocco call the Buffer Zone. It has been the de facto temporary capital of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic since the government moved there in 2008 from Bir Lehlou. It is the headquarters of the 2nd military region of the SADR.
It is also the name of a Daïra of the Wilaya of Smara, in the Sahrawi refugee camps.
In 2010, the population of Tifariti was estimated at around 3,000 persons.Tifariti is located between Smara, the traditional spiritual centre of the Sahara founded by the Ma El Ainin (177 km (110 mi) away) and the Algerian town of Tindouf (320 km (200 mi) away), where the Sahrawi refugee camps are located.
The government quarter of Tifariti houses the parliament of SADR, a hospital, a school, a mosque and a museum.Western Sahara conflict
The Western Sahara conflict is an ongoing conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco. The conflict originated from an insurgency by the Polisario Front against Spanish colonial forces from 1973 to 1975 and the subsequent Western Sahara War against Morocco between 1975 and 1991. Today the conflict is dominated by unarmed civil campaigns of the Polisario Front and their self-proclaimed SADR state to gain fully recognized independence for Western Sahara.
The conflict escalated after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords. Beginning in 1975, the Polisario Front, backed and supported by Algeria, waged a 16-year-long war for independence against Mauritania and Morocco. In February 1976, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was not admitted into the United Nations, but won limited recognition by a number of other states. Following the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania in 1976, and the Polisario Front's declaration of independence, the UN addressed the conflict via a resolution reaffirming the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people. In 1977, France intervened as the conflict reached its peak intensity. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and territories, leading to a stalemate through most of the 1980s. After several more engagements between 1989 and 1991, a cease-fire agreement was reached between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government. At the time, most of the Western Sahara territory remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controlled some 20% of the territory in its capacity as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, with additional pockets of control in the Sahrawi refugee camps along the Algerian border. At present, these borders are largely unchanged.
Despite multiple peace initiatives through the 1990s and early 2000s, the conflict reemerged as the "Independence Intifada" in 2005; a series of disturbances, demonstrations and riots, which broke out in May 2005 in the Moroccan-held portions of Western Sahara, and lasted until November of that same year. In late 2010, the protests re-erupted in the Gdeim Izik refugee camp in Western Sahara. While the protests were initially peaceful, they were later marked by clashes between civilians and security forces, resulting in dozens of casualties on both sides. Another series of protests began on 26 February 2011, as a reaction to the failure of police to prevent anti-Sahrawi looting in the city of Dakhla, Western Sahara; protests soon spread throughout the territory. Though sporadic demonstrations continue, the movement had largely subsided by May 2011.
To date, large parts of Western Sahara are controlled by the Moroccan Government and known as the Southern Provinces, whereas some 20% of the Western Sahara territory remains controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Polisario state with limited international recognition. The questions of mutual recognition, establishment of a possible Sahrawi state and the large numbers of Sahrawi refugees displaced by the conflict are among the key issues of the ongoing Western Sahara peace process.
Western Sahara War