“Why does Morocco, inhabitated by Moroccans, belong to France? Anything must be better than live under French colonial rule. Should a land belong to France? By what logic and by what custom and by what historical rule?…When we´ve won the war, I will work with all my might and main to see to it that the United States is not wheedled into the position of accepting any plan that will further France’s imperialistic ambitions.”
– President Roosevelt during a private meeting with Sultan Muhammad V on 1943
Only military students of French academies and those with a passion for the Vietnam war know that Moroccan troops participated in the French War in Indochina. Moroccan forces witnessed Ho Chi Minh and his guerrillas drain French forces and the foreign legionnaires, which culminated in their defeat in Diem Bien Phu. Moroccans and Algerians wondered if the same tactics would apply to their own countries, which led to the formation of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria and the National Liberation Army (ALN) in Morocco. The FLN and ALN were dedicated to ridding Algeria and Morocco respectively of French rule.
The early organization of the ALN consisted of cells of 25 operatives (14 civilian and 11 military) representing one vanguard and a vanguard squad leader. Cells were put under different levels of command and employed in guerrilla operations against lone French outposts. In hindsight, and in recognition of the contributions Moroccans made to World War II, the French might have worked toward a more peaceful transition to Moroccan self-rule. Instead, Paris dragged its feet. It took a political solution and a guerrilla vanguard to gain independence for Morocco (July 1956) almost 11 years after the end of World War II. Many of the armed ALN cells based themselves in the middle Atlas Mountains and the Rift Valley. ALN leader Abdulkareem Al-Khateeb developed and implemented the idea of recruiting Moroccan officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) in the French Army within ALN ranks.
King Mohammed V and Crown Prince Hassan strove to collect all the elements of Moroccan formations into one Moroccan Armed Force. When Morocco gained its independence in 1956, Moroccans were fighting under French and Spanish flags as well as with the ALN. Hassan went to Paris to negotiate the transition for self-rule and to establish a Moroccan Armed Force of 15,000 troops.
Field Marshal Mohammed Ammzyan negotiated with Francisco Franco for the transfer of 10,000 Moroccan troops who, like Ammzyan, had served in the Spanish Army. From 1956 until March 1961, the French, who could have easily opted for a revolutionary war, withdrew 90,000 troops from Morocco. The transfer involved the absorption of 5,000 ALN fighters who were entrenched in the Atlas Mountains and the Rift Valley.
Mohammed V went directly to ALN leaders to acknowledge their contributions to the Nation’s independence. He offered each fighter the opportunity to join the Moroccan Armed Forces and employed many of them as border guards. He instituted a 9-month training program to ease the Moroccan’s transition to the regular army, and he brought ALN leaders and formations to the palace in Rabat to go through a military inspection and a presentation of colors before the King. The book offers a valuable lesson about assimilating a liberation army into society, retaining its dignity, and recognizing its military value to a newly independent nation. In the 1960s, many Moroccans were sent to Spanish, French, and U.S. military schools, a trend that continues today. Al-Merini also lists 22 schools within Morocco that are affiliated with the military. The Moroccan military is proud of its officer and NCO academic achievements. Lieutenant Colonel Abdelkader Al-Marboo and Major Mohammed Raffei attended the French Higher Military College, and during the 1989-1990 academic year, organized a symposium on European Defense in the 21st Century. In the spring of 1991, Moroccans published the Air Force magazine L’ Espace Morocaine, which emphasizes military thought and formulates new theories on security.
On 8 November 1956, Moroccan Armed Forces developed a national security structure. A High Council for National Defense, chaired by the king, was created. The council included a prime minister, a minister of labor, an interior minister, and a minister of national economy. The council oversees the affairs of the Defense Ministry and aids in civil control over the military. The council also combines all elements of national power, economics, human resources, and internal policing to address matters of national security–a lesson Egypt learned only after the debacle of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Morocco’s unique military organization Al-Deerk Al-Malaki (Royal Guards) not only protects the monarch but provides security in courts, military policing, port security, and airport security. The essence of Morocco’s uniformed services is summed up in a speech King Hassan II made declaring that his army is a democratic army that is a school for the Nation.
Activity Since 1960
Congo (ONUC) 1960-1961
The Moroccans became highly active in peacekeeping, sending two battalions to the Congo under the command of General Hammu Al-Kitani. The force included Royal Guard and Regular Army units that integrated well under Al-Kitani’s command. They interacted with Katangan Separatist Rebels, reorganized the Congolese police force, restored order in villages, surveyed a dam, and reopened the port of Boma along the Congo River.
Sand War 1963
The Sand War occurred along the Algerian-Moroccan border in October 1963, and was a Moroccan attempt to claim the Tindouf and the Béchar areas that France had annexed to French Algeria a few decades earlier.
Skirmishes along the border eventually escalated into a full-blown confrontation, with intense fighting around the oasis towns of Tindouf and Figuig. The Algerian army, recently formed from the guerrilla ranks of the FLN’s Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN) was still geared towards asymmetric warfare, and had little heavy equipment. They were still battle-ready and had tens of thousands of experienced veterans, and strengthening the armed forces had been a top priority for the military-dominated post-war government. On the other hand, while the modern, western-equipped Moroccan army (France was the bigger arms seller to Morocco at that time) was superior on the battlefield, it did not manage to penetrate into Algeria. The Algerians had counted on hit-and-run attacks as their main strategy, but the Moroccans managed to counter this approach. The Moroccans built fortified Sand Walls. These Sand Walls had land mines and electronic warning systems, as well as strong defenses placed by the Moroccan troops. The tactic was later used in the Western Sahara War. The war reached a stalemate and after the intervention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Arab League, it was broken off after approximately three weeks. The OAU eventually managed to arrange a formal cease-fire on February 20, 1964. A peace agreement was then reached after Arab League mediation, and a demilitarized zone instituted but hostilities simmered.
Arab-Israeli wars 1967 and 1973
Moroccan forces arrived too late to participate in the Six-Day War, but sent forces to the Egyptian and Syrian fronts in the 1973 Yom-Kippur War. Morocco sent one infantry brigade to Egypt and one armored regiment to Syria. Golan (Syrian) Front units and Moroccan units were under the command of General Abdelsalam Al-Safrewi. Faced with Israeli armor, the Moroccans armed their infantry with bazookas.
The first close combat commenced against the 74th Battalion’s northernmost sector, in the Valley of Tears, the Moroccan Brigade was equipped with thirty tanks. One Israeli Centurion was hit, and an Israeli platoon that was sent northward to guard the Dan Road was caught between the Moroccans moving against Tel Shaeta and a Syrian battalion closing in from the west. Avner Landau’s company, now with seven Centurions, was also threatened and could not help. Nafshi delegated the area north of Hermonit to his deputy, Major Yosef Nissim, and reinforced the sector with Captain Eyal Shaham’s company, leaving a company from the Armor School Tank Battalion as a tactical reserve. In forty minutes, every Barak Brigade Centurion in the northern Golan was committed. Nissim ordered Shaham to reinforce the trapped platoon around Tel Shaeta, and ordered his deputy, Lieutenant Asaf Sela, to cover the area south of Tel Shaeta, which could provide easy access to Hermonit, with one platoon. The Moroccans continued to fire at Tel Shaeta, but did not advance, and the Syrian battalion was stopped when its leading vehicles were destroyed on the roadway. The Syrian battalion commander decided to move southward and try to penetrate between the Dan Road and Hermonit. He was unaware that he was moving between the forces of Shaham and Sela, who prepared a trap. They opened fire just before 15:00, using superior positions. After a little more than two hours, the Syrians withdrew, leaving behind their bridging tanks, a bulldozer tank, two BRDMs and six main battle tanks. Shaham’s company lost two Centurions. Just before nightfall, Shaham noticed three SU-100 gun carriers and a truck close to Nissim’s position, from which Nissim could not engage them. Shaham directed Sela, who could not see the Syrians, to intercept them. Sela, accompanied by one other Centurion, opened fire at the rear of the Syrian force and destroyed them at a range of 200 to 300 meters.Two Syrian tanks to cross the open ground to the anti-tank ditch in the unguarded area south of Nissim’s sector. The Syrian companies began moving toward that area, hoping to cross just before nightfall.As darkness fell, Nafshi ordered one company to move forward towards the Syrian bridges across the ditch to destroy the tanks that had crossed. The Syrian company that crossed was hit by Landau’s tanks and destroyed after half an hour. The bridgehead was sealed.
During the second Battle of Mount Hermon, At dawn on October 7, the Moroccan expeditionary force, along with the Syrians 183rd Commando Battalion and the 68th Infantry Brigade, was deployed on high point 1614 on the Hermon mountainside, southwest of the 82nd Battalion. The Moroccan expeditionary force was the central force in the 7th Infantry Division’s breakthrough attempt. Its mission was apparently to capture Bunker 103 in Majdal Shams and then move through the Ya’afuri Valley to block the Majdal Shams-Masada road and later move across the Banias to Ghajar. On the night of October 6–7, it moved westward on foot from the Hadar area through the Hermon slopes and deployed on high point 1614. In the afternoon of October 7, its reconnaissance company seems to have attacked Bunker 103 and then retreated back to the battalion area.
On the Egyptian front they made their contribution under the command of Colonel-Major (brigadier general) Hassan Al-Hatmee. Moroccan Desert units, which were positioned around the town of Suez, built defensive perimeters along Bir Azeib, a strategic location that controlled access to the two roads leading to Cairo (the Suez to Cairo road and the Ras-al-Abadiyah to Hilwan road). Moroccan troops returned from Egypt and Syria in April 1974.
Congo (Shaba I/II) 1977-1979
In 1977, the Moroccans increased their presence in the Congo, responding to a call from the Organization of African Unity to bring peace and stability to the Congo (then called Zaire). Under the command of Colonel Abdelkader Lubarees, and with the aid of French transports, the Moroccans landed 1,300 troops. Their mission was to put down a communist insurgency in Katanga Province. While battling Cuban and Angolan forces, the Moroccans captured Soviet hardware, including SAM-7 missiles.
After the September 1979 coup that had freed the Nation of a military dictatorship, the Moroccans dispatched a security contingent in equatorial Africa to restore order to the Central African Republic. No information reveals the size of this Moroccan force.
Western Sahara Since 1975
The former Spanish Sahara borders Morocco, and before Spanish colonialism of the area in 1885, the region was an autonomous area administered by the Moroccan monarchy. Al-Merini describes how members of the ALN were directed to combat Spanish units as early as 1958. Members of the ALN even waged attacks on French forces in Tindouf (southwestern Algeria) to relieve pressure from the FLN, which from 1954 to 1962 fought for its independence from France.
After Spain withdrew from the Spanish Sahara in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania mobilized forces, with Morocco occupying two-thirds of the territory. The Moroccans staged a “Green March,” in which 300,000 of its citizens and troops marched with Qurans to reclaim Moroccan territory. This issue has become the single most defining aspect in Moroccan nationalism today. A prolonged guerrilla war ensued, in which the Algerian-supported Polisario fought for its independence from Western Sahara. The conflict remains unresolved.
Mauritania 1977 to 1979
Twelve thousand Moroccan troops were dispatched to Mauritania to help combat Polisario separatists. Algeria supported the Polisario as part of its strategy of adopting an anti-West rejectionist front. Morocco, as a pro-U.S. monarchy, was ripe for attack by Egypt’s strongman Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the pan-Arabists. The Western Sahara War continued until the UN brokered a cease-fire in 1991. Before the cease-fire, the Moroccans built a series of sand barriers along the border of Algeria and the Western Sahara designed to limit desert raiding. The barriers were highly effective, leaving the Polisario few avenues of escape.
Persian Gulf War 1990-1991
During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, King Hassan II sent a Moroccan force of 1,300 troops to Saudi Arabia and 1,000 troops to the United Arab Emirates. The troops came with tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles and Milan antitank missiles, jeeps, trucks, communications cars, water tanks, and repair trucks. The force’s task organization was based on how it fought in Western Sahara.
The Moroccan contingent was made by a Mechanized Battalion and an infantry battalion in the Omar and Tariq Task Forces. It took part mainly in the Battle of Khafji (Tariq Task Force), but also contributed with security and aid personnel.
Somalia (UNOSOM I/II) 1992
The Moroccan forces that were sent to Somalia were task-organized to provide humanitarian relief. The force included 1,250 combat troops and 50 military medical personnel serving under the command of Colonel (Doctor) Alaal Farraj. Among the Moroccans who arrived with their forces in Somalia was Helima Merri, a female Moroccan physician from the Ministry of Health, who with 36 civilian doctors and their support staff opened a second Moroccan field hospital. Publicizing Merri’s role could encourage other Arab armies to see the leadership potential of professional Arab women. A social service contingency led by Captain Fidwi Binani provided Somalis with counseling and psychological services.
In mid-June 1993, a combined Moroccan-French force swept an area of Mogadishu that was controlled by militia loyal to Mohammed Farrah Aidid. An ensuing exchange of fire led to the death of Colonel Abdullah Binmamous and 4 Moroccan soldiers and injury to 40 Moroccan citizens. Al-Merini discusses the importance of the Islamic contingent that attacked Aidid, who was holding Muslims hostage and using innocent civilians in his war against other factions. After Binmamous’s death, the Moroccans doubled their efforts and with the French took over the Balee Doo-Ghlee section of the city, capturing over 100 of Aidid’s militia and impounding numerous weapons.
On 21 June 1993, King Hassan II sent Crown Prince Mohammed to oversee the return of the Moroccan soldiers who had died in the battle to secure Balee Doo-Ghlee and to ensure that proper honors were rendered to them. The Moroccans, who arrived in Somalia in December 1992 and left in April 1994, policed major districts of Mogadishu, guarding relief convoys centers and the airport. They also relieved Pakistani peacekeepers in the UN security operation called Mansoor II.
In March 1996, 1,200 Moroccan troops left the port of Agadir as part of a UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The troops positioned themselves around Mount Igman to provide security to Sarajevo and to reinforce French forces. They provided protection to UN and NATO convoys and security to the city of Mostar; guarded a valuable airstrip; and sent forces to Gorazde.