1991 Tifariti offensive

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Operation Rattle
Part of Western Sahara War
Date 4 August 1991 to 6 September 1991
Location Tifariti, Bir Lehlou, Mehaires, Mijek & Agwanit, Western Sahara
Result Destruction of Tifariti & Bir Lehlou,[1] temporary depopulation of the Liberated Territories
Morocco Morocco Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Sahrawi Republic
10,000–100,000 soldiers[2]
300 tanks
Royal Moroccan Air Force support (14 planes)
Casualties and losses
Unknown killed
Unknown wounded
1 captured[3]
Unknown killed
Unknown wounded

Civilian Casualties:

30 killed[4][5][6]
24 wounded[4][6][7]
100 missing[6]

Operation Rattle also known as the 1991 Tifariti offensive, was the last military operation in the Western Sahara War by the Royal Moroccan Army against the Polisario Front, seeking independence for Western Sahara. A ceasefire (accorded to be in effect from 6 September 1991) had been agreed between the parts on July.[8] During August and the first days of September 1991, the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) conducted offensive operations in the areas of Mehaires, Tifariti, Bir Lahlou, Mijek and Agwanit, resulting in multiple Sahrawi civilian casualties, the destruction of Tifariti and Bir Lahlou, poisoning of the wells and subsequently depopulation of the area.

Operation Rattle[edit]

Remains of a Moroccan Northrop F-5 shot down in Tifariti by Guerilla during Operation Rattle

Between 4–5 August, Moroccan troops and aviation attacked the towns of Tifariti, Mehaires and Mijek, destroying infrastructure that had been built for the nomad population of the area and the outcome of the referendum, and while a United Nations military experts mission was in the zone. POLISARIO sources stated that they had no military casualties, and on 13 August declared that one Sahrawi had been killed and another wounded during the attacks on Tifariti and Miyek.[4] Sahrawi sources from Tindouf mentioned that three civilians were wounded during the attacks. On 4 August, a Moroccan Northrop F-5 was shot down by Sahrawi fighters near Tifariti, and his pilot Captain Youssef Megzari captured (he escaped from Tindouf prison in February 2005 along with another POW).[9] While the POLISARIO saw the attacks as a Moroccan attempt to sabotage the peace plan, the Moroccan official news agency defined the attacks as a "cleansing operation in no-man's land" to avoid the "infiltration of elements armed and trained to make terrorist attacks on the Moroccan Sahara"[3][7][10]

From 22 August, a second wave of attacks by the Moroccan forces take part on Tifariti, Bir Lehlou, Mijek and Agwanit.[11] While Polisario Front sources defined the attacks as a "massive terrestrial offensive" and denounced the "systematic destruction of the water wells",[2] MAP stated that since early August there had been "political operations of cleaning and searching in the no man's land", but denying that there were on a "greater scale".[12] On 25 August, POLISARIO officials announced that Moroccan forces had reached the town of Bir Lehlou, the temporary capital of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, making hundreds of Sahrawi civilians flee into the desert.[13] These sources stated that the Sahrawi forces were not opposing resistance to the Moroccan offensive, due to "respect to the date of September 6 marked by the UN peace plan for the ceasefire", but also adverted that if after the ceasefire date the attacks continued, "Sahrawis will be legitimated to exercise their self-defense right".[14] Finally, they affirmed that at least twenty Sahrawi nomad civilians had died, most of them of thirst, during the Moroccan offensive.[5] On 27 August, then UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuellar expressed his confidence on the maintenance of the ceasefire date, while dismissing POLISARIO reports about the attacks.[15] Moroccan press attacked Pérez de Cuellar, accusing him of not being neutral and creating confusion. Meanwhile, the Royal Moroccan Air Force bombed Tifariti again, killing at least five civilians, wounding 20 and destroying the infrastructure of the town, according to Hash Ahmed, then POLISARIO representative in Madrid, who added that ten thousand refugees on the Tifariti region were fleeing, and a hundred were disappeared.[6] On 29 August Bachir Mustapha Sayed, POLISARIO representative for relations with the MINURSO, declared that the Moroccan troops were retreating into the Moroccan Wall.[16]

Cease fire[edit]

A cease-fire between the Polisario Front and Morocco, monitored by MINURSO (UN) has been in effect since 6 September 1991, with the promise of the celebration of a referendum on independence the following year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ana Camacho (8 September 1991). "Los saharauis celebran la tregua como "día histórico para la independencia"". El País. Retrieved 11 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  2. ^ a b Ana Camacho (25 August 2012). "Ofensiva terrestre masiva en el Sáhara". El País. Retrieved 12 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  3. ^ a b Western Sahara war 1975–1991. List of Royal Moroccan Air Force losses during operations against Sahrawi rebel national liberation movements (POLISARIO).
  4. ^ a b c "Muerte en el Sáhara". El País. 13 August 1991. Retrieved 10 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  5. ^ a b Ana Camacho (26 August 1991). "Muertos de sed". El País. Retrieved 13 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  6. ^ a b c d "La aviación marroquí bombardea uno de los principales oasis del Sáhara". ABC. 28 August 1991. Retrieved 13 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  7. ^ a b Ana Camacho/Dris Bouissef-Rekab (9 August 1991). "El Polisario pide a la ONU que ponga fin a la escalada militar en el Sáhara". El País. Retrieved 9 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  8. ^ El Frente Polisario denuncia un ataque de la aviación marroquí ABC, 5 August 1991 (Spanish)
  9. ^ https://www.yabiladi.com/article-politique-310.html
  10. ^ Ana Camacho (8 August 1991). "Marruecos bombardea 'zonas liberadas' del Polisario". El País. Retrieved 10 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  11. ^ "El Polisario denuncia un nuevo ataque marroquí en el Sáhara". El País. 23 August 1991. Retrieved 11 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  12. ^ "Marruecos lanza "operaciones" de ataque contra las guerrillas del Frente Polisario". ABC. 25 August 1991. Retrieved 12 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  13. ^ "Marruecos ocupa la capital del Polisario en su ofensiva en el Sáhara". ABC. 26 August 1991. Retrieved 12 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  14. ^ Ana Camacho (26 August 1991). "El Polisario esperará hasta el día 6 para ejercer su "derecho a la autodefensa"". El País. Retrieved 12 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  15. ^ Ana Camacho (28 August 1991). "Pérez de Cuéllar confía en que se mantenga el alto el fuego y el referéndum en el Sáhara". Retrieved 13 July 2012.  (Spanish)
  16. ^ Ana Camacho (29 August 1991). "Los marroquíes se retiran, asegura el Frente Polisario". El País. Retrieved 13 July 2012.  (Spanish)

Further reading[edit]

  • Hodges, Tony (1983), Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, Lawrence Hill Books (ISBN 0-88208-152-7)
  • Thompson, Virginia and Adloff, Richard (1980), The Western Saharans. Background to Conflict, Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-389-20148-0)
  • Diego Aguirre, Jose Ramón (1991), Guerra en el Sáhara, Ed. Istmo (ISBN 84-7090-252-0)