The significance of Morocco’s Jerada base near the Algerian border

Observers believe the Algerian army, headed by Chengriha, is seeking to find an outlet towards the Atlantic Ocean through the Sahara Desert.
Monday 01/06/2020
Moroccan and Algerian flags on the border between the two countries. (AFP)
Moroccan and Algerian flags on the border between the two countries. (AFP)

Following news that a new Moroccan army base on the outskirts of the city of Jerada, 38km from the Moroccan-Algerian eastern border, will be used for field missions, the army reacted by issuing a statement clarifying that the barracks are dedicated to serve as accommodations for members of the Royal Armed Forces working in the region.

A Moroccan military source said that the barracks do not have the characteristics of a military base, and that establishing them in Jerada was part of the army’s new strategy of moving its barracks out of urban areas.

Although the military base to be established close to the kingdom’s eastern border on an area of ​​23 hectares is primarily for logistical use and has no offensive purposes, it does not rule out that security considerations also play into the army’s plans. The focus is unlikely to be military operations, but instead security reinforcement along the kingdom’s borders to help counter incursions by terrorist groups or drug trafficking gangs.

In the meantime, Algeria is said to be seeking to establish a military base in Bir Lahlou in the buffer zone between both countries.

Observers say that this orientation is consistent with the new military doctrine adopted by Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune and his Army Chief of Staff and Acting Defence Minister, Major General Said Chengriha, especially as his country works to expand existing field bases and establish a command base in Bir Lahlou.

Security sources said Algeria was in the process of providing the Polisario Front with 16 tanks and advanced equipment to build a wall facing the Moroccan wall from the Algerian side. Such reports add to speculation of an impending Algeria-Morocco confrontation that has been rife since a draft amendment to Algeria’s constitution that would allow the president to deploy troops after securing a two-thirds majority in parliament was submitted for discussion.

Observers believe Morocco’s decision to include ocean waters off the coast of the Moroccan desert in its territorial waters prompted Algeria to activate its “Hell Plan,” which calls for the establishment of a military base east of the wall to support the Polisario Front; hence leading Morocco to establish a logistical base in Jerada, near the city of Oujda on the border with Algeria.

General Chengriha does not hide his support for the Polisario and has made numerous statements in their defence deemed provocative by Morocco. During military exercises and manoeuvres by the Algerian army in mid-March 2016, he clearly reaffirmed his “support for the Sahrawi people in their struggle to regain their lands,” as he put it.

Chengriha’s plan involves creating air bases along his country’s eastern border with Morocco. While serving as commander of the armed forces, he personally supervised training operations for Polisario forces.

Morocco has long been preparing to respond to any attack plans by the Polisario with Algerian support from behind the security defence wall. Security experts believe that the kingdom has decided to counter Tebboune and Chengriha’s new strategy by adopting several measures, the most important of which is securing the border area from the air via satellite surveillance, a defensive wall based on air missiles and advanced F-165 fighter planes and special forces, in order to limit the Algerian side’s capacity to extend the war in the desert to an all-out war along the Algerian-Moroccan border.

Observers believe that the Algerian army, headed by Chengriha, is seeking to find an outlet towards the Atlantic Ocean through the Sahara Desert. This has prompted Morocco to secure its eastern and southern borders from any threats to its national security, and the Jerada base meets the logistical demands of this strategic goal.