the Berlin Airlift
the Korean War
air war in Vietnam
Linebacker bombing raids
the Falklands War
Air War over Morocco
the first Gulf War
Venezuela’s 1992 coup attempt
the Serbian bombings
the MPQ-53 Radar

The Air War over Morocco
by Raul Colon

Maybe one of the lesser cover conflicts of the past fifty years, the Moroccan campaign of the mid to late 1970s, proved to be one of the most important events in the contemporary history of North Africa. It all started in 1974, when the Spain withdrew from the Spanish Sahara in Morocco. After the event, both, the Moroccan government and Mauretania agreed in principle, to the partition of the just-vacated territory. In 1975, the Moroccan military took official control of all the Western Sahara territory. Unfortunately, not all the players involved in the Sahara region agreed with the plan and the Moroccan execution of the terms.

The main adversary to the treaty was the Algerian backed and based, Polisario (Popular Front for the liberation of Seguiet el-Hamra and Rio de Oro). Fighting over the disputed sector commenced in the spring of 1974. By 1976, the first elements of a major French armament augmentation effort began to arrive. A few months later, the French government approved the deployment of several combat air platforms. Initially, French operated Jaguars and Mirage F-1s were deployed from the former French base at Dakar. The units were sent there in an attempt to bolster the Moroccan Air Force’s (MAF) obsolete fleet of Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, F-5s and their own Mirage F-1s. The MAF main operational base was located at Kenitra where most of the MAF’s air-worthy inventory rested. Kenitra was also the main combat operation base for much of the action against the Polisario.

The MAF’s F-5As and Es, supplemented by a squadron of obsolete Magisters, were the first aircraft involved in the fighting. The main objective of the MAF, and later on, the French; was to interdict and cut off the Polisario supply lines and set up camps that sometimes were out of the reach of the regular Army. Over a three years span, the MAF pounded the rebels without much opposition. The Polisario, although well organized, lacked any type of organized air defence weapons to implement a coherent defence strategy. But that changed in late 1977 when the Polisario began to receive advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems such as the Soviet-made SA-7 and in the late 1978, the SA-6.

The introduction of SA-7s and 6s batteries changed the air dynamics over the Western Sahara area over night. Polisario’s ground forces were now able to shoot at incoming Moroccan and French fighter/bombers. Between the summer of 1978 and the spring of 1987, the MAF lost fourteen F-5As to SA-7 batteries. The French force flew mostly reconnaissance missions, although some interdiction operations were also carried out and suffered the “sting” of the newly arrived SAM batteries. In fact, an alarming number of Jaguars were shot down by SA-6s, Anti Aircraft Artillery and even small calibre fire such as heavy machine guns and rifle fire. In 1987 alone, two Moroccan F-5As were shot down and two others barely made it back to Kenitra. The same happened in 1987 when two F-5s and four Mirage F-1s were downed. French losses for those years amounted to six Jaguars downed or damaged beyond repair.


In the early 1980s, in an effort to restore its former advantage, the MAF commenced a major overhaul of its air-worthy inventory. New models such as the new and improved version of the Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet, the E model. Twenty four of these advanced trainers/light attack aircraft were purchased by the Moroccan government. In addition, in 1981, the United States made good on its 1978 promise of assistance by sending six refurbished Rockwell OV-10 Broncos, which had the distinction of still having its operational status almost thirty years after they were introduced to the theatre.

Even the new hardware could not stop the Polisario hit and run attacks and by the fall of 1989, both parties began negotiations towards ending the dispute. After two years of on and of talks, the parties, with the assistance of the United Nations, finally agreed to a cessation of hostilities. A new state of affairs was implemented over the region. Twenty eight years later, the uneasy truce achieved in 1991 still prevails.

How to Make War, James F. Dunnigan’ HarperCollins 1993 edition
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea and on the Ground, Robert Kaplan, Random House 2007
Naval Aircraft, Francis Crosby, Hermes House 2005