1987 CIA Report Warns of Potential Morocco-Algeria War Over Western Sahara

A declassified 1987 CIA document analyzes the potential for military escalation between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara conflict. The report warns that Algeria may take forceful measures to pressure Morocco, potentially including direct military involvement on behalf of the Polisario Front.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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1987 CIA Report Warns of Potential Morocco-Algeria War Over Western Sahara

1987 CIA Report Warns of Potential Morocco-Algeria War Over Western Sahara

A declassified CIA document from February 13, 1987 analyzes the potential for military escalation between Morocco and Algeria over the long-running Western Sahara conflict. The report, entitled "Morocco-Algeria: Living near the brink," highlights how the territorial dispute "prevents a normalization of bilateral relations" between the neighboring North African countries.

Why this matters: The Western Sahara conflict has significant implications for regional stability in North Africa, and a potential war between Morocco and Algeria could have far-reaching consequences for global security and economic interests. Moreover, the conflict highlights the importance of diplomatic efforts to resolve long-standing territorial disputes and prevent military escalation.

The CIA assessment finds that neither Morocco nor Algeria are willing to make "substantial concessions" to resolve the Western Sahara issue. It predicts Algeria will sustain its diplomatic efforts to isolate Morocco until the government in Rabat agrees to earnest negotiations with Polisario Front leaders fighting for an independent Western Sahara. The report warns, "We believe that the prolongation of the Western Sahara war will occasionally prompt Algeria and Morocco to move closer to hostilities."

Algeria's frustration with the stalemate could lead it to take forceful measures to pressure Morocco, the CIA cautions, potentially including direct military involvement on behalf of the Polisario. The document points to Algeria's history of brinkmanship, such as ambushing a Moroccan patrol in 1984 and previous border clashes in 1963 and 1976. The 1984 incident saw Algeria maneuver forces to attack a Moroccan border unit while Rabat was driving Polisario guerillas from their Western Sahara strongholds.

Morocco's construction of afortified sand berm, known as the Sand Wall, has proven an effective strategy for exerting control over Western Sahara territory and hindering Polisario operations, the report notes. This defensive line has reduced pressure on Morocco's King Hassan II to enter into direct talks with the Polisario. However, the CIA warns Algeria may deploy armored battalions or aircraft to breach the sand wall, risking a full-blown war with Morocco.

In the event of an Algerian attack, the CIA assesses Morocco would likely retaliate with air strikes on Polisario camps near Tindouf in western Algeria. Both sides would aim to utilize the element of surprise to avoid their aircraft being shot down by ground-to-air missiles. The report cites a senior Algerian official expressing his country's desire for a "face-saving solution" to the conflict, contrasting with Morocco's perceived goal of total military defeat of the Polisario.

The 1987 CIA analysis lays bare the intractable nature of the Western Sahara dispute and the looming threat it poses to stability between Morocco and Algeria. Neither side has shown willingness to compromise, the report concludes, making the potential for war an ever-present danger. "Having nothing to show for their diplomatic efforts, the increasingly frustrated Algerians may try to use just enough force to jolt Rabat out of its intractability,"the CIA document grimly warns.