Terror attack on Gas Facility in Algeria – Arab Method of Counter-Insurgency

First of all I agree there can be no negotiation with these type of fanatics except the time required to get into a better position to kill them. However I am very skeptical of the expertise of the Algerian forces.  Some US military personnel have apparently been impressed with the Algerian elite forces. I have  spent many  years with various Arab armies and one of the cultural aspects I have observed many times over the years is with the Arab sense of drama to  put on excellent “dog and pony” shows. Leaping through flaming  pits. slide for life. troops going trough an infiltration course with lane graders firing on either side of them with automatic weapons. Impressive as hell. Our visitors were duly impressed. Flash back a number of years when the Egyptian 999 unit tried to  free many hostages from a hijacked airliner at Nicosia airport. Total disaster. We helped train the 999 counter-terrorism unit. ( in fact a US general was there at the site)They looked great. Good physical shape., handled weapons well, brave as hell, but in a delicate situation like Nicosia or the gas plant they are not up to it. Might also remember the initial Saudi debacle at the grand mosque, and   finally having to bring in French troops to do the job . My experience with Algerian  military is limited to the mid 90’s and only short periods in country but all these years I remember one particular incident that has stuck in my mind. At the tomb of the Algerian unknown soldier the single sentry on duty was bullshitting with a couple of girls and showing them his weapon. Can you imagine that with old guard at Arlington? The history of the Algerian war against the terrorist was successful mostly because they were the antithesis of our hearts and minds hangups. They out terrored (sic) the terrorists. They assassinated, wiped out villages,  put killers in plain clothes to terrorize the civilian population, and it got to the point that most people feared the  Algerian security forces more than the Islamist terrorists.  From every report I have read, the Algerians were ill-disciplined, poorly trained and usually resorted to brute force. The is the preferred Arab approach to counter-insurgency and it has worked. 

Arab Counter-insurgency

While the success of Arab insurgents against Western armies or those assisted by Western powers has been minimal, the success rate against their own governments has been zero. In recent history there is not a single incidence of a successful Arab or any ethnic insurgency against an Arab government. Many military or palace coups have been successful, but not an insurgency.
In researching available information that is somewhat slender, and given the reluctance of Arab governments to describe any possible dissent to their regimes, the “why” of these unsuccessful insurgencies is not clear, however, there is one point that is salient.  Arab governments do not subscribe to the “hearts and minds” theory of counterinsurgency. Actually “hearts and minds” is a simplistic journalistic phrase to sum up the intricate and nuanced strategies and tactics contained in the new U.S. Army counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24.[i]  Rather, the typical Arab government subscribes to what might be termed “the fear and intimidation strategy.”  Basically it boils down to having the populace decide who they fear the most.  In every case researched there was no doubt that it was the power of the government.

In a critique of the counterinsurgency manual, Edward Luttwak posits U.S. emphasis on good  social and political programs as basically irrelevant, averring that the U.S/ Army belief…:

That a necessary if not sufficient condition of victory is to provide what the insurgents cannot: basic public services, physical reconstruction, the hope of economic development and social amelioration. The hidden assumption here is that there is only one kind of politics in this world, a politics in which popular support is important or even decisive, and that such support can be won by providing better government.[ii]

While the criticism is too sweeping, Luttwak has a point. Within our frame of reference and the prism of our belief system the good government makes sense, but Western and Israeli experience in the Arab/ Islamic World does not validate the concept that good government always wins popular support.  In my experience Western efforts to bring about a better life among the people of the Middle East are usually met with deep cynicism, and often provoke violent reactions from the Islamic clergy and politicians who play to anti-Western sentiment of the population.

Separating the insurgent from his base of support is a tenet of counterinsurgency.  This tenet has been incorporated in the Arab World, but with a totally different technique. They intimidate or bludgeon the perceived sympathetic population into acquiescence.

To illuminate the salient characteristics of the Arab way of war against insurgencies requires a brief examination of the more relevant insurgencies of the post-World War II era.

Iraqi insurgencies

 

With the advent of independence, Iraq underwent a series of insurgencies, mostly minor in scope but many protracted ones, including the present one which also seems to have lost momentum.  Iraqi revolts or insurgencies were invariably put down with brutality and very little in the way of thought given to any course of action other than military destruction of the rebels and their population base. This was typified by the savage Iraqi subjugation of the Assyrian community in 1933 which was agitating for an independent nation.[iii]  The Iraqi general leading the counterinsurgency was Sidqi Bakr who became a national hero by virtue of his destruction of the Assyrian community. This rebellion was followed by the revolt of tribal elements in the province of Diwaniya in 1935, also put down by Sidqi Bakr using, “…the full power of the newly formed Iraqi air force and the army against the tribesman.”[iv]  Again in 1937 the armed forces squashed a revolt of the mid-Euphrates tribes, decimating the tribal structure.

By far the most serious rebellions and insurgencies against Iraq have been Kurdish revolts.  Although there had been tribal clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish rebels since 1931, a full blown conflict broke out after a brief honeymoon relationship between President Abdul Qassim and Kurdish leader Mahmud Barzani broke down.  In 1961 Qassim sent his air force to bomb Barzani’s home village, and in September Qassim sent his army on an offensive against the Kurds. The brutality of this campaign set the model for far more brutal ones to follow. In the following five wars up to the time of the infamous 1975 Algiers agreement in which the Shah of Iran, in an accord with Iraq, pulled the rug out from under the Kurdish effort by cutting off all support, many thousands of Iraqi Kurds had been murdered,  600,000 displaced from their homes.  More than  1400 villages had been razed to the ground.[v]  The most insidious assault was by the  Ba’athi regime in 1969, not only on the Kurdish people, but on the concept of Kurdish identity.  Arabization became the overall policy.[vi]  Kurdish schools were closed, government grants for Kurdish students were not allowed, and the Kurdish region was deliberately left out of governmental projects.  Most importantly, efforts were made to minimize the use of the Kurdish language.  Meanwhile the steady bombing of villages by the Iraqi Air force continued, producing thousands of refugees. Assuming the Kurds had been intimidated, Saddam then launched a “reconstruction” program, not to ameliorate the plight of the Kurds but to hasten Arabization and change the demographic balance.[vii]

For the Kurds much worse was to come.  In 1988 as Saddam Hussein became more anxious over the course in the Iran-Iraq war, the Kurds were taking advantage of Iranian-Kurdish common interests in defeating Saddam.  Large segments of Iraqi Kurdistan were controlled by the Kurds.  At that time the decision was made to eradicate the Kurds once and for all.  General Majid Ali was appointed to head  the program to destroy them.  The story of the three phases of the Anfal campaign have been told elsewhere.[viii]  Suffice it to say that between 150,000 to 200,000 Kurds, most civilians, died in mass executions, poisonous gas attacks, and deprivation of elementary standards of living conditions.  It broke the back of the Kurdish insurgency, and were it not for the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf War, there is no reason to believe that their conditions would have improved or that they would have risen in revolt so soon.

Unfortunately for the Kurds, they did rise up again, but badly misjudged the international environment and the capabilities of the Iraqi Army after its catastrophic defeat.  Immediately following the Gulf War there was a Kurdish insurrection that was easily crushed by Iraqi forces much better at killing their own countrymen than Coalition forces.  Overconfidence was the basic Kurdish problem, a belief that outside powers would come to their defense and the decision to fight set piece battles against an enemy much better equipped to fight that type of war.[ix]

But before Saddam Hussein left the scene he was able to inflict more pain on the Kurds by virtue of the Barzani led Kurdish Democratic Party Alliance with Saddam against the  Talabani-led Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in 1996.  Many Kurds who had cast their lot with the United States were rounded up and executed.[x]  Many others had to leave their homes.

There are two salient points which characterize all the Iraqi-Kurdish conflicts; the utter brutality with which they were waged by the Iraqis and the implementation of their tried and true divide and conquer programs.  The intra-Kurdish conflict has been and continues to be their single most important impediment to an autonomous home for the Kurds.  In every conflict there were Kurdish tribes willing to fight their own people for a myriad of reasons.  Other than the short- lived, poorly disguised attempts of Saddam Hussein in the late 1970’s, never was there any attempt to win over the Kurds by appealing to their sense of being a different, but nevertheless integral part of Iraq.  It was, and has always been, a purely military strategy of destruction of the Kurdish social fabric.

Syrian Insurgencies

As this was written A few years ago it obviously does not cover the current civil war  in Syria which is no longer an insurgency but rather a mostly an urban conventional war.In any event the result is far from settled despite the many prognostications predicting an early Assad demise.

Syria has been involved in several counter-insurgencies since the late mid-1960’s, one against the Palestinians in Lebanon, and later against the Christians.  But the one that was most dangerous to the regime was the Islamist uprising in 1980 and again in 1982.  The Syrians have had a long history of counterinsurgency beginning with the French defeat of the Druze rebellion in 1925 which lasted two years and was ended by brute French military strength.[xi]  Under the independent Syrian government the Druze community fared much worse.  Colonel Adib al-Shishakli’s repression of the Druze in 1954 was indeed a case of state terrorism to destroy the Druze sense of independence.  His repression of the Druze was such that ten years after his loss of power he was hunted down and killed in Brazil by a Druze assassin.[xii]

Syria’s reasons for entering Lebanon during the civil war will always remain a matter of academic debate but the only sure point is that Hafez Al-Asad considered it to be in the interest of his minority Alawite regime.[xiii]  Alarmed by the successes being achieved by the Lebanese leftist forces and Arafat’s Palestinians, Syria first entered the fray against the Palestinians.  The ever-cautious Hafez Asad generally refrained from the extremes of military action, not because of humanitarian concerns, but in the case of conflict with the Palestinians, the opprobrium of the Arab World,[xiv]and in the case of the Christian Maronites, the fear of Israeli intervention.[xv]  In fact his attack on Lebanese Christian forces in the town of Zahle in April 1981 was one of the few instances in the annals of recent Arab counterinsurgency that an actual hearts and minds campaign was conducted, and a concerted effort was made to limit civilian casualties.[xvi]  The Syrians used much more subtle methods such as clandestine violence to create “a level of tension, distrust and unrest that would force Zahlawis to request the introduction of ‘peacekeeping’ units.” This included the care and feeding of a Christian pro-Syrian faction which engaged in gun battles with the anti-Syrian townspeople.[xvii]  Later in the war, however, the Syrians bombarded the civilian population with artillery.  As the conflict dragged on, the ever sagacious Asad was much less reticent to use surrogate forces to kill over one thousand  Palestinians  in the infamous ”war of the camps” which continued for almost two years.  In this bloody phase of the Lebanese civil war, Syrian – controlled Shi’a militiamen from the Amal organization, and Shi’a elements of the splintered Lebanese Army attacked Palestinians in the Sabra, Shatila, and Burj el-Barajneh refugee camps.[xviii]  They were aided from time to time by Syrian special forces.[xix]  There were many cases of atrocities committed by the Amal militia against the Palestinians.

The atrocities committed during the Lebanese war paled however in comparison to the bitterness of the Muslim Brotherhood war against the Syrian regime in 1980-1982.

In this conflict the Asad regime was directly threatened and there was not even a pretense of concern for the well-being of non-combatants.  Even in Patrick Seale’s hagiographic biography of Hafez al-Asad, the carnage inflicted on the Syrian population was horrendous.[xx] Seale blames most of it on Hafez’s brother, Rifaat, but whomever was responsible there was no mistaking the methods and the result.  The Syrian regime armed local militias, made liberal use of heavy weapons in urban street fighting, giving a free hand to elite Syrian troops to mete out summary executions which were carried out in house to house searches.  Scores of males over 14 years of age in Aleppo and Hama were rounded up and “shot out of hand.”[xxi]

Aleppo was cleansed of the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents by a full division that remained in Aleppo for a year with tanks in the streets.[xxii]

The full fury of the Asad regime was felt later in the insurrection of Hama.  In February 1982, after a Syrian Army unit was ambushed, a full scale urban war broke out and  continued for three weeks.  As Seale wrote, “Many civilians were slaughtered in the prolonged mopping up, whole districts razed, and numerous acts of savagery reported, many of them after the government had gained control of the town. Entire families were taken from their homes and shot.”[xxiii]  Following the occupation of Hama, Asad set about changing the social fabric of the city by bulldozing the rubble away and creating a city with wider streets, shopping malls, and basically diminishing the old oriental character of the city. Some would see it as the application of the carrot after the stick, and no doubt that was partially true, but it was also a city remade to diminish the ability of insurgents to operate in an urban environment.

When I was in Hama in 1996, evidence of the ferocious assault was still visible with cement patches over the shell holes in buildings, and chinks in the cement made by small arms fire covering the walls of every older building. The few people who would talk to me told me that many buildings had been left with the marks of war to remind the population of the price of revolt. Of all my years of travel in the Arab World, the people of Hama were the most sullen, uncommunicative people I ever encountered.

The Jordanian PLO Insurgency[xxiv]

Early on the morning of September 17, 1970, the Jordanian Army began an attack on Palestinian military forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Amman.  It was spearheaded by the 60th Armored Brigade with M-60 tanks. The attack presaged a bitter 10-day full scale civil war that continued off and on till July 1970 when the PLO was ejected from Jordan. It was a war provoked by months of Palestinian encroachment and daily humiliations inflicted on the Hashemite regime, culminating in the hijacking  and landing of four European and American airliners between September 6th and 9th that were  forced to land on a  salt flat known as Dawson Field. After taking the passengers and crew hostage, the airliners were blown up.

This was the final humiliation for the King, who had previously caved in to continued PLO demands and allowed the PLO to virtually become a state within a state.  He created a military government, acceding to the demands of the army that they be allowed to restore their honor as well as the sovereignty of Jordan.  He was convinced by his military commanders that the Palestinian forces would be quickly dispatched.  It was a grossly overly optimistic assessment.

The city, largely built of stone and cement construction,* with much of the Palestinian areas being a maze of narrow streets and refugee camps that had over the years become indistinguishable from the rest of the city, were not suited for the armored assault.  The   tanks assault was primarily a result of the Jordanian military strategy of winning by intimidation and it failed.  The Palestinians were on rooftops and moved from house to house which were impervious to all but the tank main gun.  I observed Jordanian infantry being pinned down by  Palestinian fire and the tanks proceeding without infantry support.  Many were then hit and immobilized by Soviet rocket propelled grenades.  After two days it became clear that the war would be a bitter one, with all the problems inherent in a Middle Eastern urban insurgent war.  Palestinians lived in the city, and they were fighting among their homes and families, while the largely Bedouin or rural villagers of the Jordanian armored units in Amman were not.

The armored units proved inadequate to subdue the Palestinians.  Eventually parts of the two infantry divisions that were generally situated along the Jordan River facing Israel were also brought in to support the armor units.  The armored units had been withdrawn after losing a number of tanks.  There were many Palestinians in these divisional units, especially in the support and artillery units, and a significant number deserted.  Dug in the warren-like environment of the Palestinian areas of Amman the Jordanian Army was unable to root out the insurgents.  As the Palestinians had no compunctions about the danger of fighting midst their families, the Jordanians were forced to fight a war in which there was very little discrimination between Palestinian fighters and the Palestinian community. Refugee camps were pounded by artillery, and certain districts such as Ashrifiyah, a Palestinian district, were relentlessly bombarded by artillery, tanks, and the four-barreled 40mm automatic guns that poured a tremendous volume of fire down on the Palestinian areas.  There was no way that this fire could be any more precise than area targeting.  Civilian loss of life was heavy.  Arafat and the PLO had set up their headquarters and many military installations inside the city of Amman within the Palestinian camps to inhibit Israeli attacks but that did not deter the Jordanian forces from attacking these installations.[xxv]  The readiness of Arafat to come to the negotiating table was largely driven by the suffering of the Palestinian community and his disappointment with the paucity of outside Arab support.  It was a war won, not by a Western concept of counter insurgency strategy, but rather the breaking of the will of the people by intimidation and force. This was not a deliberate strategy on the part of the Jordanian authorities; it was a result of lacking a well thought out strategy of how to fight an insurgency among civilians.

Yemen

 

The savage intercine war in Yemen lasted from 1963 until 1967[xxvi]and had all the attributes of a tragicomedy with sometimes the theater of the absurd.  For the Yemeni people it was all tragedy with over 100,000 Yemenis dying at the hands of various contending political, tribal, and outside military forces.  The primary fighting was between Egyptian forces supporting the newly installed Republican government against the Royalists seeking to restore the Mutawakilite Imams who had ruled since 1919.  The Royalists were funded and supported by the Saudis and were also assisted by an array of mercenaries and professional soldiers from Britain and Jordan.  The war dragged on with periods of truces and agreements, always broken when expedient to do so, with alternating periods of Royalist and Republican successes.  It ended with a whimper, not a bang.  Following the Egyptian defeat in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, President Nasser withdrew his troops, which at the height of deployment were at 50,000 or more.   As the Royalists ringed Sana, seemingly on the verge of triumph, their coalition of tribal factions fell apart and the insurgency failed.  It was a classic validation of an observation I often heard from my Arab friends that at the nadir of their fortunes Arabs arise from the ashes and when at the pinnacle of success fall apart.

The war conducted by the Egyptians was an incompetent one. They had no real strategy other than attacking the support population base of the insurgency.  Without maps, totally ignorant of the people, arrogant in their disdain of the Yemenis, and basically unprepared for the hostility of the people and the nature of the terrain, they resorted to tactics of limited terror and intimidation to cow the base of the Yemeni population that supported the Royalists.[xxvii]  The Egyptians also took hostages and reportedly used poison gas on Yemeni villagers several times.[xxviii]  Control in the center of gravity, the city of Sana,  was  maintained by Egyptian troops who would  rush to the scene of an incident “firing indiscriminately at all in sight,” often inflicting casualties on  people who happened to be walking nearby.[xxix]  In the end the “Egyptians left behind mutilated people, ruined villages, destroyed crops, wrecked vehicles and a burning legacy of hatred.”[xxx]  This attitude was still evident when I visited Yemen in 1989.  The discomfort of various Egyptian officials and businessmen was obvious and they were not reticent about telling me so.  Nevertheless the insurgency failed and the Republican government remained in power.

The Egyptian insurgency

 

I was sitting in the reviewing stand in October 1981 about 20 meters from the official party of President Sadat, watching the Military Day parade when the first shot of the Egyptian insurgency began.  After mass confusion subsided I was driven back to the U.S. Embassy observing that the streets of Cairo were eerily empty.  Even the ubiquitous hordes of semi-wild dogs that roamed the environs of Cairo were nowhere to be seen.  No one knew what to expect as rumors of a  revolution were common.  In actuality there were some minor disturbances in upper Egypt but these were easily handled by the massive apparatus of the Egyptian security forces.  Mass arrests and trials of Islamists brought relative peace to Egypt between 1981and 1987.[xxxi]  Local Islamist activities were tolerated as long as they did not directly threaten the regime.  Partially because of U.S. pressure Egypt lifted some political repressive measures designed to keep the Islamists out of the political arena.  As has often been the case, the chimera of allowing “moderate” Islamist political activity with an objective of bringing radical groups into the political structure backfired.  Encouraged by the seemingly weakened response of the government, radical groups re-initiated a program of terror.[xxxii]  They were often supported by the discontent among very conservative elements of the Egyptian population.  Middle East observers were asking if Egypt was the next Iran and ripe for revolution.

The Egyptian regime took the threat seriously, implementing counter-measures immediately.  Operating under the “emergency laws” in effect since the assassination of Sadat, Egyptian security forces wasted no time in a full blown and no holds barred offensive against the radicals.  Suspects were arrested and tried in military courts, torture was frequently used, and family members of Islamist group members were arrested and held as a form of hostage taking.  According to one source there were 19,915 arrests of Islamists between January 1988 and December 2000.  Six hundred sixty-five civilians were killed by security forces and 114 death sentences carried out.[xxxiii]  During the mid-1990’s political detainees reached a level of 30,000.  Egyptian security forces also carried out assassinations of leading Islamist leaders, and against the full blown insurgency in upper Egypt imposed village curfews, military show trials, systemic torture and the destruction of vegetation to clear away guerrilla hideouts.[xxxiv]  The foremost militant group,  Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG), gradually became defanged through repression and a clever system of government inducements to the leadership to moderate their group’s objectives.  By 2002 they officially renounced armed conflict.  The insurgency had failed.

An illuminating aspect of the demise of the insurgency was that contrary to conventional counterinsurgency wisdom, repression did not strengthen the insurgency by producing new waves of recruits. Rather it convinced many of the insurgent leaders that costs did not support the benefits.[xxxv]

Algeria

 

The civil war in Algeria from 1992 to 2000 is a particularly informative case study of the typical Arab regime methodology in winning against insurgents. It is an excellent portrayal of the way the Arab counterinsurgency strategy differs from the Western way of conducting counterinsurgency.

First of all there was very little emphasis, if any, put on the concept of winning the “hearts and minds” of the people.  In fact it was quite the opposite.  In this conflict, as in most Arab indigenous conflicts, the victor is decided by whom the populace fears most.

The conflict began in December 1991 when the government cancelled elections after initial voting indicated the Islamic Salvation Front ( FIS), a extremely conservative Islamist Party, would win the general election.  Over time they formed several armed groups that began an insurgent war against the Algerian government.  As is generally the case with Middle Eastern insurgencies, the insurgents soon splintered into various groups, often fighting one another as much as the Algerian government.[xxxvi]  This war, as in the previous war against the French, was conducted with great brutality on both sides.  Whole villages were massacred, and rebels carried off young women as sex slaves.

By 1999, the violence began to abate and by 2002 had practically disappeared.  A new group calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) with loose ties to al-Qaida appeared and resumed terrorist attacks on government officials and civilians in general.  By 2007 this group was almost subdued, with only infrequent incidents of violence.

What strategy brought victory to the Algerian Government?  Certainly it was not by following the spirit of the much quoted expert on counterinsurgency, David Galula.[xxxvii]  As in the war against the French, this war was against the community from which the enemy drew his support or was perceived to be doing so.  Algerian rebels against the French were urged to kill European settlers, including their children, an exhortation carried out to the letter at the infamous massacre of women and children at Philipeville.[xxxviii]  This was enlarged to mean any Algerians who were neutral, and in fact the greatest number of rebel victims were fellow Algerian Muslims.[xxxix]  Terror was found to work.  The French acted accordingly and were convinced that torture worked.  Recent discussions of the efficacy of torture concentrate on whether or not it is an effective way to obtain intelligence, with a near universal answer that it is not, but there is a broader effect and one possibly of greater significance. It is the application of a climate of fear in the minds of the people. In this regard the Algerian government security forces were extremely effective.  Fear of being seen with a rebel sympathizer and being interrogated was a constant inhibitor to insurgent and community relations. While most professional interrogators will claim that torture is counterproductive, it certainly does, and did in the case of Algeria, act as a strong inhibitor to fraternization between insurgents and the community:

The supposed presence of security agents prevented any discussion of political events in public. The large number of “new bearded men” in the district confused the outward sign of political affiliation; those policemen disguised as Islamists tried to make contact with the local people. Real and fake Islamists sowed confusion and increased suspicion…[xl]

Instead of trying to win over the population in areas sympathetic to the Islamists, the Algerian Army did exactly the opposite. They made life unbearable for the inhabitants.  It was the strategy of chaos. They isolated the hostile neighborhoods and gradually the competing bands of insurgents became indistinguishable from common criminals. Murder and extortion were daily occurrences for shopkeepers.  No one trusted anyone else.  Businesses dried up and the money flow to insurgents dwindled.[xli]

Despite a more recent spike of terror activity perpetrated by a renovated terrorist group called the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb,( AQIM),[xlii] the Islamist insurgency can be termed a failure.

Morocco

 

The Polisario (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro  initially waged  an insurgency against  Spanish control of  Western Sahara but turned against the Moroccans and Mauritanians when the Spanish withdrew.  Morocco and Mauritania claimed the former colony as the Spanish departed. When the Spanish withdrew in 1976, King Hassan II organized a march of 350,000 unarmed Moroccans into the western Saharan city of Aiun to buttress his claim.  The Western Sahara was divided between Mauritania and Morocco.  Unable to maintain the war against POLISARIO insurgents, Mauritania made peace with the group in 1979, whereupon Morocco annexed the whole territory.  In the beginning the Saharan guerillas were inflicting heavy losses on the ill-trained Moroccan draftees, but gradually the Moroccans, with western assistance and the erection of a 2,500 kilometer, three meter high sand wall manned by a heavy contingent of troops in fortifications, protected by land mines, and movement sensors, contained the POLISARIO.  The rebels continued the war primarily from bases in Tindouf, Algeria, which has long supported the POLISARIO movement.  However, by 1991, clearly on the losing side, the Western Saharan leadership agreed to a ceasefire and a referendum which has been repeatedly postponed by Morocco.

The Moroccans have used heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the insurgency.  Numbers of people have “disappeared,” others held for years in detention, and there are substantiated  allegations of  torture. Whatever the reality of the charges it is clear at this stage that the insurgency has been crushed by military means, and it is also clear that Morocco, with the military advantage, will not relinquish control.  The POLISARIO insurgency has failed.


* A point which must be made here as cogent to the subject of Arab insurgency is that the Arab World is primarily urban and that most of the insurgencies, particularly the most intractable ones, have been urban insurgencies.  It is by far the most difficult insurgency to fight, even for those trained to do so.


 

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About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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