Hassan II transformed Polisario victories into defeats

Hassan II transformed Polisario victories into defeats
Hassan II transformed Polisario victories into defeats

In the early 1980s, the Polisario Front did not carefully consider its military and diplomatic steps. Consequently, King Hassan II (1962 – 1999) transformed the separatist movement’s pseudo-victories into real defeats. Dated April 1, 1983 and declassified in July 2011, a CIA document returns to this aspect.

This document notes that since “the end of 1981, the Polisario Front has suffered major setbacks due to its strategy aimed at forcing Morocco to negotiate a settlement of the Western Sahara question.”

The separatist movement’s tactics are based on “the somewhat ill-considered assumption that the Front would be able to achieve a series of spectacular military and political victories over Morocco, which would shake the kingdom’s confidence sufficiently to make major concessions.”

“In October 1981, the Polisario Front achieved a major victory over Moroccan military forces at Gueltat Zemmour in Western Sahara, inflicting on Morocco the greatest human and material loss in a single action [militaire, ndlr] since the start of the war, six years earlier. Shortly after, the rebels scored a major diplomatic victory, maneuvering to get the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to sit at a ministerial meeting of the Organization of African Union.”

CIA Document

The American intelligence agency notes that, however, the two “achievements” of the Polisario turned into “victories with a heavy price”. Indeed, “the Front paid dearly for having overestimated its capabilities and underestimated Morocco’s determination to dominate Western Sahara, as well as the great diplomatic talents of King Hassan II.”

A military failure

The CIA document continues that “in the aftermath of their victory at Gueltat Zemmour, the rebels saw King Hassan II transform the defeat into a successful attempt to obtain greater military support from the United States”, but also a greatest diplomatic support from Arab and African countries. In this sense, American intelligence maintains that Morocco has mobilized “all the strength of its international relations and its regional position to weaken the momentum of the Polisario Front, since the attack on Gueltat Zemmour”. Thus, Morocco “received increased American military aid, which allowed it to overcome the weak points of its defensive strategy.”

Further, the document explains that after this battle, the Polisario Front lost the initiative on the ground and “may not be able to organize a successful campaign, capable of weakening Morocco’s will to defend its claim over the Sahara.

Additionally, the Moroccan berm under construction since 1980, added to other improvements to Moroccan defenses, “will make small unit attacks [du Polisario, ndlr] less effective than they were before,” underlines the CIA. However, “such attacks are always likely to inflict human losses on the Moroccan side and boost the morale” of the separatist troops.

The same Source explains that Moroccan airstrikes by Mirage F-1 aircraft, with better detection capacity, are the main problems that the Polisario is trying to resolve.

In this sense, the CIA notes that “over the last two years, the Polisario Front has accumulated an impressive modern stock of heavy weapons; its possession of medium tanks, for example, is equivalent to nearly 70% of the Moroccan army’s stock. Despite this, “a successful attack on one of the smaller sites along the Wall will have only marginal military and political impact.”

Furthermore, “an attack on a major city or military site presents significant risks to the safe withdrawal of heavy tanks through narrow channels. In any case, it may require more forces than the Polisario is willing to risk in a single attack. Outside the Wall, there are few targets and inside Western Sahara, only Dakhla remains outside the protection of the main defensive perimeter.

Regarding attacks on military bases outside the Sahara, according to the document, the movement would have to “obtain authorization from Algeria, which is unlikely. In both cases, the Polisario Front will face significant, perhaps even prohibitive, logistical challenges. “At present, it is unlikely that he will be able to find a solution,” notes the CIA.

“The Polisario Front is almost powerless, due to lack of good military options and due to the somewhat inconstant nature of the support of its main supporters, Algeria and Libya, on which most of the Front’s successes depend,” explains the document, underlining that this situation generally serves the interests of Morocco.

“A Polisario official later described the result of the battle of Gueltat Zemmour as an incontestable military victory, but a political and strategic failure,” the agency further indicates. This notes that King Hassan II “cleverly gave the impression that the Polisario Front was using sophisticated equipment which required foreign military advisers, as well as the active participation of Algeria and Mauritania, which reinforced the point of view of Hassan II to strengthen American military aid.

The failure of the Organization of African Unity

The CIA confirms that the Organization of African Unity has suffered a major blow due to disagreements between Morocco and its supporters and the pro-Polisario camp led by Algeria and Libya, “with a majority of members angry against the way in which the Sahara question has divided the organization and reduced its capacity to work. Twice, the issue of regional conflict led to the failure of the 19th edition of the annual OAU summit.

Also, one of the consequences of the Polisario’s participation in the OAU ministerial meeting was that “the committee responsible for implementing the settlement process proposed by the organization has not made any progress for more than ‘a year”. To protest against the accession of the pseudo-“State” of the Polisario as a new member of the OAU, “Morocco and 18 other African governments organized a boycott, which hampered the dynamics of a solution sponsored by the OAU and disrupted the organization’s meetings for the next few months.

This division within the OAU, according to the document, “led to the 19th summit not being held in Tripoli.” With this failure “more members of the OAU saw that the organization should not remain hostage to a single issue, in particular the Arab conflict.”

Created at the Tripoli meeting to find ways to reconvene the summit, the six-member communications group then met with various OAU members. At the end of September, “he concluded that the question of the SADR jeopardized the existence of the OAU”, while stressing the importance of convening the summit towards the end of 1982. To this end, he It was agreed that the Polisario should participate neither in the meeting of the Council of Ministers beforehand, nor in the summit itself.

After consultations with its supporters, the Front concluded that it “had no choice but to announce its temporary abstention from all resumptions of summit meetings”. “The communications commission also recommended that the report of the Executive Committee for Western Sahara be included on the summit agenda, to revive the faltering peace process,” adds the same Source.

The Polisario and terrorism

At the time, the CIA said the extension of the Moroccan berm would hinder Polisario access to its rear bases in Tindouf, significantly lengthen lines of communication and force the rebels across northern Mauritania.

She added: “Realizing that the success of the war effort against Morocco depends in part on breaking the morale of Moroccan forces, fighters may be more inclined to resort to terrorist activities now that they are less capable of ‘directly confront the Moroccans’. The agency reiterated that “US intervention in the Sahara war could push rebels to consider destabilizing operations in Morocco as a legitimate and viable military option.”

The agency also explains that the Polisario has not launched terrorist attacks inside Morocco, fearing “losing the little international support it has”. Despite this, the agency does not exclude the possibility that the separatists “circumvent the wall of sand through terrorist attacks carried out behind Moroccan lines, via Algerian territory, and penetrate the useful triangle inside the Sahara” .

The CIA confirmed that the Algerians, in turn, knew that the separatist movement could no longer cause damage to the Moroccan army, because of the Sand Wall, desertion and lack of discipline within the guerrillas. .

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