Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Algerian-Moroccan War (1963–1964)

Algerian-Moroccan War (1963–1964)


PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Algerian and Moroccan border
regions in the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: In a dispute over borders,
both countries sought control over the regions in question.

OUTCOME: The disputed areas were divided by treaty.


CASUALTIES: Algeria, 300 killed; Morocco, 200 killed

TREATIES: Organization of African States cease-fire, 1964

France pulled out of Morocco in 1956 and Algeria in 1962
(see ALGERIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE), leaving its two former
colonies to contend with the problems of self-government
and modernization in the 20th century. In the first
flush of freedom both countries proclaimed a bond of unity,
steeped in the ancient history of their Muslim pasts, in their
common heritage as desert border kingdoms, and in their
bloodsoaked struggles for independence from France. But
because France had controlled the region for so long the
700 or so miles of uninhabited Maghrib Desert running
southwest of Bechar all the way to Tindouf that served as a
frontier between the two countries proved to be more a
source of friction than of bonding. As master of both
colonies, France never bothered to map accurately the desolate
borderlands nor to appropriate it for one country or
the other. In the separation from Algeria, France established
the border between its former colonies without consulting
either, and neither was happy with the result.
Almost immediately following independence in 1962,
Algeria’s president Ahmed Ben Bella (b. c. 1918) demanded
the border be adjusted. Morocco ignored the demand and
sent military forces to the disputed area to protect its
claims. Algeria soon followed suit, and when its troops
reached the Maghrib the vaunted North African unity disappeared.
In its stead lay a vast ideological expanse
between the conservative historical monarchy in Morocco
and the revolutionary socialists in Algeria. By the summer
of 1963 the Moroccan government was accusing Algeria of
engaging in a series of acts undiplomatic at best and at
worst seriously provocative. The most serious of the
charges imputed that Ben Bella’s government had aided and
abetted an attempted coup d’état against the monarchy.
The botched coup was real enough, Algeria’s role in it less
certain. Ben Bella scoffed at the accusations, and Algeria
prepared for war.
Hostilities broke out on October 13, 1963, sparking a
bitter border war along the disputed frontier in the Atlas
Mountains–Sahara Desert region. It remains unclear who
fired the first shot or what overt act precipitated the fighting,
but the war saw several sharp battles in the desert in
which hundreds were killed. The war was a rather onesided
affair, with the Moroccans dominating the fighting
at Hassi-Beida, Tindouf, and Figuig, although they were
unable to seize and hold a clear advantage. Alarmed at the
severity of the combat and the hatred with which the two
countries were proceeding, the nascent Organization of
African Unity (OAU), led by Ethiopian emperor Haile
Selassie (1891–1975) and Mali’s president Modibo Keita
(1915–77), attempted to broker a peace settlement.
A cease-fire was arranged in February 1964, but the
dispute was hardly settled, and a deep-seated enmity
developed between the two countries. Not surprisingly,
the border war flared again in 1967. When Spain pulled
out of the Spanish Sahara in 1976 (see SPANISH SAHARAN
WAR), both Morocco and Algeria developed designs on
the newly independent state of Western Sahara, though
neither seemed willing to fight especially hard for control
of the desert nation. The decidedly low-key military dispute
proved no more conclusive than the earlier border
skirmishes, and both countries eventually abandoned
their attempts to incorporate Western Sahara, at length
agreeing to a treaty that divided the formerly disputed
border regions between them.

Further reading: Hugh Roberts, The Battlefield: Algeria
1988–2002, Studies in a Broken Polity (London and New
York: Verso Books, 2003); Martin Stone, The Agony of Algeria
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Benjamin
Stora, Algeria, 1830–2000: A Short History (Ithaca, N.Y.:
Cornell University Press, 2001).

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