First-time use of drone by Moroccan army highlights Polisario’s vulnerability
RABAT – In an unprecedented operation, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces halted an attempt by members of the Polisario Front to infiltrate Morocco’s sand wall in the east of the Western Sahara region.
The operation ended with the killing of the Polisario’s so-called gendarmerie chief, Addah al-Bendi, after a Moroccan drone strike against a group of key Polisario figures that included the the front leader and several senior aides.
Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud, a former security official in the Polisario, confirmed that the leader of the front, Ibrahim Ghali, survived the strike and that his wireless communication aide was seriously injured.
This is likely to be the first time that the Moroccan army has carried out a lethal drone strike during its decades-old struggle against the separatist front.
Morocco’s army has never officially disclosed its possession of drones.
The “FAR-Maroc” forum, an unofficial Facebook page of the Moroccan armed forces, said that “after a meticulous intelligence and military operation, the Royal Armed Forces monitored and tracked suspicious movements inside the buffer zones by Polisario leaders, including the leader of the terrorist organisation and a group of his senior associates.”
The social media page, whose information is often accurate, added that the strike “resulted in the killing of several leading elements, including the leader of the so-called gendarmerie in the terrorist organisation while Ibrahim Ghali, secretary-general of the Polisario Front, managed to escape.”
Morocco uses two satellites, “Mohammed VI A-B”, to monitor and track all the movements of the separatist group east of the separation wall in the Sahara.
These two satellites are equipped with sophisticated technology, which enables drones to accurately pinpoint any movement by the Polisario group.
Morocco’s representative at the United Nations, Omar Helale, has confirmed in the past that “the kingdom is now able to track the movements of the separatists and update the United Nations Secretariat in a timely manner and provide it with satellite images”, adding that this allows “us to put pressure on the Polisario separatists, whose movements and manoeuvres we monitor and denounce.”
Analysts believe that Morocco’s use of a drone in the attack against a Polisario target constitutes a qualitative development in military operations that will enable it in the future to exert control over areas that have been used by the Polisario to carry out its attacks.
The reliance on drones is likely to deal a devastating blow to the Polisario which pursues hit-and-run tactics, as their units are now within direct reach of the Moroccan air force.
Moroccan-Canadian political analyst and academic Hichem Moatad said the use of a drone to target Polisario leaders reflects the strong determination of the Moroccan defence establishment and its ability to upgrade its performance to the level of new military technologies in order to maintain its qualitative edge.
Some military strategists speculated that the Moroccan air force used an American MQ-9 drone to carry out its strike, while others asserted that the purchase of four such drones is still in the stage of technical assessment and is yet to be finalised.
Rabat relies on multiple suppliers, including China and the United States, to develop its land, air and sea defence arsenal.
It is expected to complete a new deal with China for the purchase of Wing Loong unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are used for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance missions but can also be fitted with a variety of weapons that enable it to perform combat operations efficiently.
Moatadad told The Arab Weekly that despite Morocco’s commitment to the cease-fire, the attempts of the separatist front to carry out military operations against Moroccan military targets entitle Rabat to the internationally guaranteed right of self defence in order to safeguard its territorial integrity and remove any threat to its national security.
The targeted strike comes in the midst of preparations for joint military exercises scheduled for next June, between the United States and Morocco, as part of the AFRICOM’s annual “African Lion” exercises.