There is nothing new in constructing defence walls in human history whether for military strategy, including Castle walls or moats, the Hadrian’s Wall or the Chinese Great Wall or the remarkable Taroudant wall, amongst many in Moroccan history. It is a fact that humans lived in caves and now within walls and locked doors to ensure their safety and security. However, the Moroccan ‘Sand or Berm Wall’ is different in magnitude and of its design to accommodate controlled passages or access corridors for normal and pursuit activities. Nevertheless it is perhaps the longest ever erected wall fitted with the most sophisticated electronic surveillance and surrounded with mines. It became a destructive machine to any force, individual or animal that moves in the area. A different type of electronic surveillance fence to control terrorists, drug traffickers, merchandise counter band and illegal immigration, is also under construction from Saidia in the Berkane region to link the southern sand berm. Because of the dangers created by the open desert borders between Morocco and Algeria, the Army conceived the idea to create a “Sand Wall or Sand Berm” to give it more and manageable control of a vast territory that extends over thousands of kilometres. It has become a major military zone with bases equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment and benefitting from one of the major satellite communications centres in the region. All the surrounding areas of the Moroccan ‘Wall Berm’ are heavily mined in view of its proximity to the Algerian border that has become the source and the only entry to the conflict zones to engage the Moroccan army.
In the history of the conflict in Western Sahara, the end of the 1970s was marked by intense fighting between Moroccan forces and the ‘Sahrawi army’. During those confrontations, the Moroccan forces, despite their superiority in numbers and military power, had many military defeats. In order to stop the attacks of the ‘Sahrawi army’, King Hassan II of Morocco, with the help –according to several sources– of French, American and Israeli military advisers, ordered the construction of a huge line of defensive walls whose construction lasted seven years. Though the idea of building a defensive wall was under consideration as early as 1979 when the military hierarchy and the Commander in Chief, Hassan II, started to consider their options in dealing with the Polisario and the Algerian army. It became a major challenge to the military strategists that were involved in the planning of the war efforts in the Southern regions of Morocco and consultations increased with friendly nations to come up with a solution. The Americans, the French, the Spaniards and the Israelis offered their expertise and equipment to seal the Moroccan borders from all sides and against all eventualities. The Moroccan Army was under the direct control of the Commander in Chief of the Military, Hassan II and was directly involved with Abdelaziz Bennani, His Chief of Staff, in the defence of the Sahara since the 1970s. Bennani was part of the King’s Etat-major reporting directly to him on the daily progress, first on the progress of the Green March and later on, he directed the military action against the Polisario and Algerian soldiers. Bennani was instrumental in reorganising not only the Moroccan 9 artillery battalions to support the 39 infantry strong units and others, as Morocco has no brigades, but also the erection of the Sahara defence wall extending over 2720 km from Mehbes to Zug and Lagouira in the Province of Dakhla. The region was first under the command of General Dlimi and after his death in 1983, Général de Corps d’Armée, Abdelaziz Bennani, became also Inspector General of the FAR and Commanding the Southern region, from 2004 to 2014 when he became ill and sent to the French Military Hospital of Val-de-Grace in Paris and was sent back to die at the Rabat Military Hospital on 20 May 2015
The Moroccan army felt humiliated after it suffered heavily under the Polisario-Algerian mobility tactics which proved fatal to a conventional army. The Moroccan Military Strategists were compelled to innovate and find ways to defeat the enemy, hence the idea of a Sand or berm Wall was activated in 1980. The Wall was in fact constructed in six sections from North to South and the last one around Lagouira, in the South, was completed in 1987 with five ‘breaches’ along the wall allowing the Moroccan army to pursue the enemy into the Algerian borders. All along the wall, there were also units relaying information to other intervention units, equipped with radar and protected by barbed wire. This in fact covered over 2,500 km along the defensive zone which is guarded by more than 90,000 men with a strip of land of several hundred metres of minefields prohibiting any sort of accessi. Because of the separating wall, the heavy military support from the Algerians and other countries to the Polisario on the other side of the wall, the Moroccan army was able to manage and control only around 85 percent of the Sahara region. The other 15 per cent form part of the “sand berm” which serves as a buffer-zone and a defensive shield that is made of a series of barriers of sand and stone completed in 1987 and does not constitute a liberated area as the Polisario and Ban Ki moon pretend it to be. Since then the Polisario front has been largely confined to its camps around Moroccan Tindouf in Western Algeria. It has, ever since, lost its guerrilla warfare capacity against Morocco, and also lost military support it enjoyed early on and many countries withdrew their diplomatic recognition, forcing the Tindouf junta to end its military activities and accept a cease fire that was agreed on 6 September 1991.
The Human and Material Cost of the War
The Western Sahara conflict is both one of the world’s oldest and one of its most neglected outside that of Palestine. More than 40 years after the return of the Sahara to Morocco, the cost of the conflict can be considered astronomical at financial level and in terms of human cost only the living victims can express accurately their feeling, whereas for the dead, one might wonder was it really worth it. Who is to blame for the many displaced people in both direction and around the world? There are economic, social, and security risks at national, regional and at international level involving directly Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, the Sahel and the West. In addition there are military losses suffered from 1975 to the 1991 ceasefire, an aspect which has hardly been raised or debated seriously in Morocco or anywhere in the world. The prisoners of war were cursed by the regime in Morocco because they were captured and political prisoners were assigned to hell and ignored for over 20 years living in atrocious conditions and the international community was not concerned as they were not a security risk and were not in their backyards. Anything which does not involve terrorism that might threaten their security or their streets becoming bloodbaths, as the case with New York, Paris, Brussels or others, would not be a priority. Whereas the NGOs were not interested because there was no one to pay and therefor they only paid a lip service to their cause. However, the economic consequences for Morocco are severe, though the country sees this as a win-win situation and nothing more than an investment of which the rewards will be recouped in the long run. The big losers, or Zero-sum, remain the Polisario leadership and the Algerian State who is investing heavily on ideological principles, if not a reaction to a deep animosity developed against the regime in Morocco and its system of ‘democratic’ Monarchy ever since Algeria chose to adhere to the Eastern Block. Whereas the West is quite happy to observe, show its measured indignation from time to time and supply happily arms to secure favours from both sides with the conviction that as long as the conflict continues, the better it would be for all, rather than face any kind of settlement which might be worse for them than no settlement at all. The case was proven during the UN resolution 2285 when the US, the friends of Morocco, stabbed the King and the Moroccan people in the back producing a very negative and unfriendly as well as a hypocrite draft before France, Senegal, Egypt and other friends returned the table around on the anti-Moroccan policy players. This group that is linked directly to the present Obama Administration led by Susan Rice, represent a new mafia style cartel earning large amounts of money under the disguise of various makeshift “ONGs” tax-free and no questions asked, as championed by Kenney Foundation, Denis O’Brien’s Front Line Defenders, (defending money), Katrina Lantos’ inherited organisation and Joseph Pitts, the Republican Congressman, the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission as well as his colleagues within the Sahara Caucus group, and many more. They all earn billions of dollars by producing hot air and making substantial contributions to the Democrats and the Republicans to share the proceeds and keep everyone happy. Some of these groups of specialists in deceits within the Obama clan are Denis O’Brien, an old and a clause friend and collaborator of the Clinton, who makes billions under his creation “the Front Line Defenders”, to legitimise money laundering and selling favours to the highest bidders, like his accomplice Kerry Kennedy of the Kennedy Foundation. They are supported in their endeavour by Susan Rice, Obama’s security adviser, Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador to the UN who can pinpoint, like Rice before her, the scums who need favours, or Christopher Ross, Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy to the Moroccan Sahara who was well trained in Algeria to make black gold sweeter for all and all these eminent people form part, not of the FIFA under Platter, but a Forum of the UN under Ban Ki-moon. There are freelancers like those at the Western Sahara Action Forum (WSAF), all helped by the legendary Edward J. O’Hare as ‘Easy Eddie’ in the grandiose title of ‘The Independent Diplomat’, Carne Ross, at the expense of his dead friend scientist, David Kelly, or Jim McGovern and John Conyers, both representing the Democratic Party, going to bed, for money of course, with the Republican Congressman, Joe Pitts. It is quite natural for both the Republicans and the Democrats to be members of a Caucus but for the “Western Sahara Caucus” they represent the foes of Morocco at the expense of centuries of Morocco-American friendship. But as the English saying goes, “where is there is muck, there is money”, and there is plenty of it in Algeria with black muck, gas tankers and pipelines flowing as well as South African diamonds can tempt any fallible human being, and they all pay better than Morocco. All these mafia organisations have formed a joint venture to bid for the World Cup that is held in Tindouf in April of every year, and it is the best way to earn and launder money regularly and no one dares ask the right questions as from ‘where the money comes from for these organisations? Perhaps there is the law expert a certain Carne who could not make it in a law practice, found other shmucks to recruit him and be their wizard, which makes Human Rights a joke.
It was as a result of the artificial conflict created by the Algerian regime that forced Morocco to invest heavily in its military. It was in response to the rules of the balance of power Harvard teachers, that Morocco’s budget became enormous as the cost to maintaining its army in such vast region required. The overall cost attributed to the military was astronomical and was made at the expense of national education and health. The big majority of the citizens were suffering and paying for this reunification to prove their nationalism or plain fear from the Makhzen of Hassan II. The government covered up its failures to the point of never mentioning the hundreds of Moroccan prisoners of war for decades. This lack of transparency or lack of being truthful with the citizens is resented by many. It is within this vicious circle that Morocco was forced to create an army which ranks 26th of 166 countries by number of active troops. The cost of the conflict was around 23% of the national revenues in the 1980s or an average of 15.5% of the total government expenditure between 1975 and 1990. Its budget was around 34,625 billion dirhams, as indicated in the 2009 military expenditure presented to Parliament, and by 2012, it reached 35 billion dirhamsii. It reached US$3.8 billion in 2014 and the prevision for the period 2015 to 2019 is over 220 billion dirhams. The figures are not always accurate, but in the main it absorbs on average around 5% of the national GDP, more than any other public services with a daily cost of $10 million according to figures published in 2005, putting Morocco on the top 16 spenders on the army. The figures were even higher before the erection of the “sand wall” when the cost was running at $1 billion a year. Furthermore and exceptionally it spent another $3 billion to acquire 24 American F-16/C/D Block 50/52 aircraft with either the F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 in its 2007 order and the first batch of four of the 24 Lockheed Martin Block 52 F-16s arrived at Ben Guerir Air Base in August 2011iii. There were also four Italian Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan transport aircraft to be added to the existing C-130 transport and surveillance aircraft. The RMAF has also received 24 T-6C turboprop trainers, an improved version of the T-6B Texan II, to replace the turboprop T-34 Mentor and Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers in service. Parts of the earlier budgets were allocated to construct the sand wall when it was impossible to control the whole of the Sahara desert bordering Algeria and Mauritania. This construction proved an ideal way to restrict access to Polisario infantry and other armoured vehicles, especially when considering the mobility and speed the modified Land Rovers could move, and proved deadly in hit and run raids. With the Wall in place and Reagan’s approval of the sale of new equipment to Morocco, the special units were able to transport their hardware and personnel by Super Puma, AB-205 and CH-47 Chinook helicopters and speed up reinforcement with large units. The army was also equipped with anti-tank defences to include Hughes 500 MD light helicopters with TOW missiles to neutralize Polisario T-54, T55 and BMP tanks. In addition, there were special radar equipment to scan the area, as well as heavy artillery and tanks logistically placed to repel the enemy crossing to useful Sahara. There were ground radars along the Wall with C-130 Hercules surveillance in the air and 2 RF-5A added to the battles, as well as another 20 F-5E “Tiger II” and 4 F-5F which were offered by Saudi Arabia and the Shah of Iran, after the Polisario SAMs downed some of the Air Force fighters. In order to cover the vast areas, the Air Force also acquired further four tanker planes to carry out air-to-air refuelling. Once the wall was completed, the Western Sahara became sealed by the FAR with electronic surveillance equipment the American supplied and helped to set up, marking thus the final victory of the army over Polisario and Algerian tactics. Morocco needed this restoration of the balance of power, as the American analyst and the White House predicted, but this improvement in the hardware and electronic equipment resulted in a stalemate situation on the military front, and it was left to diplomacy to do its job but there were no diplomatic solutions found to make any headwayiv.
As the UN took over from the OAU, a great effort was made to find a solution based on the principle of a referendum to take place, which led to the setting up of the Minurso to keep peace in the region. When finally the cease-fire was declared in 1991, the Polisario was in control of a large area of the Saharan territories from Tindouf to Zug and later to Lagouira, mainly the belt on the other side of the Sand Wall which Morocco sees only as a buffer zone and not a liberated area, as the Polisario pretends. In effect it has formed a second buffer zone after the sand wall throughout the Morocco Mauritania border extending to Tindouf, with many towns like Bir Lahlou, Tifariti, and Mehaires, all situated in the north and Mijek in the centre; Agwanit, Dougaj and Zug in the south, with the whole southern border with Mauritania in its hands except for the checkpoint at Gargarat, or at best is a no-man’s land. For symbolic reasons, most important Polisario political meetings and debates are organised in either Tifariti, the head quarter of the second military region of the Polisario, or Bir Lahlou, both towns are considered by Morocco as buffer zones or as No-Man’s land in the cease-fire agreement but in reality are under POLISARIO control, as the MINURSO failed to act against the presence of the Polisario in the region. Tifariti was in the hands of the Moroccans after a fierce battle in 1977, before it was lost again in 1979. After the wall was built and a month before the cease fire, the Air Force almost destroyed the town in air attacks against Polisario units positioned there, which took place from August to September 1991, but Morocco did not take over the control of the town, as it was on the other side of the security wall, another blunder of Moroccan strategiesv. Overall many Moroccan economists recognise that without the conflict, the Moroccan military budget would only require about 2% of the GDP as opposed to the 5% on average spent on the army since the conflict began. This expenditure does not take into consideration other costs related to the improvement of the infrastructure, the social cost and others. Officially between 2007 and 2008 alone, Morocco spent, together with other attached expenses, over $3 347 392 on lobbying in Washington DC; about ten times what Algeria paidvi. Further spending of great importance since Morocco decided to update and increase expenditure on its Navy which was practically inexistent. Most of the contracts for frigates and other vessels were awarded to France ($500 million contract to buy Frenn frigate), Holland (SIGMA-class multi-mission frigate supplied by Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS), and some minor acquisitions were secured from Spain, especially when the latter decided to modernise its Navy, but also an order for defensive arms worth around 380 million dirhams was made in 2015, within a Saudi umbrella coalition force. Morocco invested heavily on its first major Navy base at Ksar Sghir which was launched by the King on 24 March 2008 and has suffered several years of delays and should be operational in 2016. There have been rumours that Morocco is acquired one or two submarines from Russia, though the last visit by King Mohammed VI in March 2016 only confirmed a bounding agreement on the secrecy of any military equipment delivered to Morocco unless approved by the country as well as the safeguarding of Russian data that might be included in any deal between the two countries. So, there are no surprises as “la Muette” is well known for its secrecy and only limited information is really available to researchers or what is released by the Army is only part of its propaganda and welfare activities when dealing with very welcomed military hospitals touring the country or set up on humanitarian grounds in other parts of the world. In addition, Morocco contributes $3 million a year to maintain the MINURSO and spends more than $3 million a year lobbying to convince US politicians and NGOs to support its Autonomy Plan and secure the international community’s approval for Moroccan sovereignty of the Southern regionsvii.
Material Losses during the armed conflict
In fact, the conflict made good business as the military cost increased for Morocco to replace the losses it suffered from 21 January 1976 to the cease fire agreement of 6 September 1991. Morocco lost 26 planes: 8 F-5A; 1 T-6G Texan; 2 Fuga Magister; 2 BN-2 Defender 5T-MAR; 8 Mirage F-1CH/F1/F EH; 1 C-130H CAN-H; 1 SA-330 Puma; 1 Piper; 1 DO 228 D-IGVN; 1 DC-7 N284, which amounts to a squadron. In addition, in terms of human causalities, Morocco lost more than 7,000 soldiers in the armed conflict that lasted from 1975 to 1991, and the Polisario lost around 4,000 fighters for the same period. Nevertheless, Morocco did not negotiate the release or publish any details of the thousands of Moroccan prisoners who were captured and lived under the most difficult conditions in the Tindouf Camps and Tazamamart would seem a Hilton Hotel. Thousands of them died of torture, neglect and horrific conditions unfit for humans. Because of a political and a diplomatic stalemate since the cease-fire was accepted, they agreed to find a peaceful solution to the problem of prisoners. With no peace and no war, the situation remains unresolved and as complicated as ever and with no solution in sight, as confirmed in the latest UN Security Council report of 2011 and the last round of talks held in March 2012. Some major changes occurred in 2015, with the official confirmation of the advanced regional authority for the Southern Regions of Morocco was announced by the King on the 40th anniversary of the Green March and which the US has endorsed when the foreign bill of the House and the Senate called for the US aid to be spent in the southern regions which becomes a de facto under Moroccan sovereigntyviii. This regionalisation was endorsed by 80% of all adult voters during the September elections confirming thus the voice of the local inhabitants of what they saw as a referendum in favour of integrating the Greater Morocco, without Tindouf as yet. However, following the visit of the SG Ban-Ki-moon to the Moroccan region of Tindouf in March 2016, he created a new crisis that might just speed up some resolutions leading to a final peaceful solution or war. Nevertheless, the SG has recommended the extension of the Minurso to 30 April 2016, but his other recommendations are not going to be accepted or adhered to by Morocco and the conflict with the SG will remain to at least the end of his mandate at the end of 2016 when a new Secretary General takes over.
By Dr Ben Kirat
Oxford, 19 June 2016