The head of the Sahrawi National Guard, Adah el Bendir, was killed on Thursday afternoon in an alleged Western Sahara drone strike, carried out by Moroccan forces, at a point along the wall built by Rabat, in the disputed and occupied Spanish ex-colony territory, according to an official Sahrawi source reported by EFE.
According to the source, El Bendir “fell as a martyr, and with honour, while fighting the occupying forces in the liberated area of Rouss Irni”, near the city of Tifariti, the Polisario Front main base and centre of military operations.
The officer was “hit by drone fire after leading an incursion through the segregation wall,” the source added. “This is further proof of the intense war in the area and why Morocco is determined to deny it,” said the source, who on other occasions has reported alleged Moroccan casualties, which have never been confirmed or denied by Rabat.
Morocco will neither confirm nor deny this latest information, which adds more uncertainty about what is really happening in the north west African conflict zone, just 100km east of The Canary Islands.
Six Months of Military Tension
The former Spanish colony has been on a war footing since last November 13, after Moroccan armed forces penetrated the Guerguerat pass, which separates Mauritania from the territory, occupied by Morocco in 1975, to remove a large group of Sahrawis who had camped as a protest on the road built by the Moroccans, in contravention of UN restrictions. The protesters were trying to interrupt the transit of goods through the area, which the Polisario denounces as illegal, on the terms of the ceasefire brokered 30 years ago on the premise of a promised and long overdue referendum on self determination for the native Sahrawi population.
Just 24 hours after that offensive, Brahim Ghali, the general secretary of the Polisario Front and president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the government in exile broadly recognised by dozens of countries including those of the African Union, made clear that this was a violation of the ceasefire and considered the truce signed in 1991 to have been broken.
A day later, he announced a start to military operations along the wall, erected by Morocco in the middle of the desert, which, according to Sahrawi sources, with combat action having been sustained and repeated since then, and which Rabat will not even comment on.
By the end of January, and in the face of stark silence from Morocco, the SADR announced that the Sahrawi Army was preparing to “expand the scope of its military operations, from southern Morocco to southern Western Sahara, to cover all enemy sectors and defences”.
The tensions were added to in recent months by political tension, the result of a decision from the outgoing president of the United States, Trump, to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony in exchange for Rabat establishing relations with Israel.
Last month the US 6th fleet aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower took part in military exercises with Morocco in the strip of Atlantic ocean between The Canary Islands archipelago and Morocco’s Port of Agadir, as part of Operation Lightening Handshake. The Government of Spain have lodged a formal complaint with the United States of America, as they had not been warned in advance that such a large exercise, including air, sea and land forces, was scheduled to occur so close to their island territories. Training in Western Sahara drone strike operations is likely to have been included in these exercises.
If these reports of this Western Sahara drone strike are true, then the drone used in this strike was almost certainly US supplied, as part of the multi-billion dollar arms deals that have continued to embolden Morocco in the region. The Moroccans are seen as a key strategic partner, and forward staging post in the region, for AfriCom, in US Military operations on the African continent.