|Commanders and leaders|
| King Hassan II
Gen. Driss Alami
| Pres. Ahmed Ben Bella
|Casualties and losses|
|39 dead, 57 captured
or 200 dead
|60 dead, 250 wounded
or 300 dead, 379 captured
Part of a series on the
|History of Morocco|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Algeria|
The Sand War or Sands War (Arabic: حرب الرمال ḥarb ar-rimāl) was a border conflict between Algeria and Morocco in October 1963. It resulted largely from the Moroccan government's claim to portions of Algeria's Tindouf and Béchar provinces. The Sand War led to a heightened tensions between the two countries for several decades. It was also notable for a short-lived Cuban and Egyptian military intervention on behalf of Algeria, and for ushering in the first multinational peacekeeping mission carried out by the Organization of African Unity.
Three factors contributed to the outbreak of this conflict: the absence of a precise delineation of the border between Algeria and Morocco, the discovery of important mineral resources in the disputed area, and the Moroccan irredentism fueled by the Greater Morocco ideology of the Istiqlal Party and Allal al-Fassi.
Before French colonization of the region in the nineteenth century, part of south and west Algeria were under Moroccan influence and no border was defined. In the Treaty of Lalla Maghnia (March 18, 1845), which set the border between French Algeria and Morocco, it is stipulated that "a territory without water is uninhabitable and its boundaries are superfluous"  the border is delineated over only 165 km. Beyond that there is only one border area, without limit, punctuated by tribal territories attached to Morocco or Algeria.
In the 1890s, the French administration and military called for the annexation of the Touat, the Gourara and the Tidikelt, a complex that had been part of the Moroccan Empire for many centuries prior to the arrival of the French in Algeria.
An armed conflict opposed French 19th Corps Oran and Algiers divisions to the Aït Khabbash, a fraction of the Aït Ounbgui khams of the Aït Atta confederation. The conflict ended by the annexation of the Touat-Gourara-Tidikelt complex by France in 1901.
After Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912, the French administration set borders between the two territories, but these tracks were often misidentified (Varnier line in 1912, Trinquet line in 1938), and varied from one map to another, since for the French administration these were not international borders and the area was virtually uninhabited. The discovery of large deposits of oil and minerals (iron, manganese) in the region led France to define more precisely the territories, and in 1952 the French decided to integrate Tindouf and Colomb-Bechar to the French departments of Algeria.
During the Algerian War, Morocco backed the National Liberation Front, Algeria's leading nationalist movement, in its guerrilla campaign against the French. However, one of the FLN's primary objectives was to prevent France from splitting the strategic Sahara regions from a future Algerian state. It was therefore disinclined to support Morocco's historical claims to Tindouf and Bechar or the concept of a Greater Morocco.
Upon Algerian independence, the FLN announced it would apply the principle of uti possidetis to preexisting colonial borders. Ben Bella's fledgling new administration was still attempting to rebuild the country after the enormous damage caused by the Algerian War, and was already preoccupied with a Berber rebellion under Hocine Aït Ahmed in the Kabyle mountains. These factors, as well as the continued escalation of tensions, prompted King Hassan II of Morocco to begin moving troops towards Tindouf.
Weeks of skirmishes along the border eventually escalated into a full-blown confrontation on September 25, 1963, with intense fighting around the oasis towns of Tindouf and Figuig. The Royal Moroccan Army soon crossed into Algeria in force and succeeded in taking two border posts near both settlements.
The Algerian military, recently formed from the guerrilla ranks of the FLN's Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN) was still oriented towards asymmetric warfare, and had little heavy weapons. Its logistics was also complicated by its vast array of largely obsolete weapons from a number of diverse sources, including France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. The Algerian army had ordered a large number of AMX-13 light tanks from France in 1962, but at the time of the fighting only twelve were in service. Ironically at least four AMX-13s had been also been donated by Morocco a year earlier. The Soviet Union supplied Algeria with ten T-34 tanks, but these were equipped for clearing minefields and were delivered without turrets or armament.
Morocco's armed forces were smaller, but comparatively well-equipped and frequently took advantage of their superior firepower on the battlefield. They possessed forty T-54 main battle tanks, twelve SU-100 tank destroyers, seventeen AMX-13s, and a fleet of gun-armed Panhard EBR armored cars. Morocco also possessed modern strike aircraft, while Algeria did not.
Despite internal discontent with the Algerian government, most of the country supported the war effort, which Algerians generally perceived as an act of Moroccan aggression. Even in regions where Ben Bella's regime remained deeply unpopular, such as Kabylie, the population offered to take up arms against the Moroccan invaders. Morocco's invasion proved to be a diplomatic blunder, as the other Arab and African states refused to recognize its border claims. Egypt even began sending troops and defense hardware to bolster the Algerian military.
On October 13, 1963, Moroccan ground units launched a major offensive on Tindouf. It stalled due to unexpectedly stubborn resistance from the town's Algerian and Egyptian garrison.
On October 22, hundreds of Cuban troops disembarked at Oran, including a T-34 tank company and a battery of 122mm field guns with the crews to operate them. They were commanded by Efigenio Ameijeiras. Although they were initially described as an advisory contingent to train the Algerian army, Fidel Castro also authorized their deployment in combat actions to safeguard Algeria's territorial integrity. The Cubans offloaded their equipment and transported it to the southwestern front by rail. While Castro had hoped to keep Cuba's intervention covert, and a number of the Cuban personnel wore Algerian uniforms, they were observed by French military and diplomatic staff in Oran and word of their presence soon leaked to the Western press. Algeria and Cuba planned a major counteroffensive, Operation Dignidad, aimed at driving the Moroccan forces back across the border and capturing Berguent. The attack was suspended pending peace talks on October 29.
Moroccan forces had planned a second offensive on Tindouf and occupied positions about four kilometres from the settlement. However, Hassan II was reluctant to authorise it, fearing that another battle would prompt further military intervention from Algeria's allies. On October 30, a formal truce was declared, leading to the cessation of all hostilities.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) mediated a peace treaty on February 20, 1964. The treaty was signed in Mali following a number of preliminary discussions between Hassan and Ben Bella. Terms of this agreement included a reaffirmation of the previously established borders in Algeria's favor and restoration of the status quo. A demilitarized zone was established in the meantime, monitored by the OAU's first multinational peacekeeping force.
French sources reported Algerian casualties to be 60 dead and 250 wounded, with later works giving a number of 300 Algerian dead. Morocco officially reported to have suffered 39 dead. Moroccan losses were probably lower than the Algerians' but unconfirmed, with later sources reporting 200 Moroccan dead. About 57 Moroccans and 379 Algerians were taken prisoner.
The Sand War laid the foundations for a lasting and often intensely hostile rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, exacerbated by the differences in political outlook between the conservative Moroccan monarchy and the revolutionary, Arab nationalist Algerian military government. In January 1969, Algerian President Houari Boumediene made a state visit to Morocco and signed a treaty of friendship with Hassan's government at Ifrane. The following year the two leaders set up a commission to demarcate the border and examine prospects for joint efforts to mine iron ore in the disputed region. Morocco finally abandoned all claims to Algerian territory in 1972.
The governments of both Morocco and Algeria used the war to describe opposition movements as unpatriotic. The Moroccan UNFP and the Algerian-Berber FFS of Aït Ahmed both suffered as a result of this. In the case of UNFP, its leader, Mehdi Ben Barka, sided with Algeria, and was sentenced to death in absentia as a result. In Algeria, the armed rebellion of the FFS in Kabylie fizzled out, as commanders defected to join the national forces against Morocco.
The rivalry between Morocco and Algeria exemplified in the Sand War also influenced Algeria's policy regarding the conflict in Western Sahara, with Algeria backing an independence-minded Sahrawi guerrilla organization, the Polisario Front, partly to curb Moroccan expansionism in the wake of the attempt to annex Tindouf.
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