109. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Colby to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Likelihood of Hostilities over Spanish Sahara


  • Intelligence Alert Memorandum, October 3, 1975: Moroccan Plans to Invade Spanish Sahara

1. Events of the last several days point to the increasing likelihood of serious fighting between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front that could draw in Spain and Algeria if the negotiating process now underway does not soon succeed.

—Several clashes have been reported, and some confirmed, between Moroccan irregulars and Polisario Front guerrillas in northeastern Spanish Sahara.

—President Boumediene has warned that, unless King Hassan halts the mass march into Spanish Sahara begun on November 6 and withdraws his marchers soon, a conflagration will occur.

—Yesterday morning Colonel Dlimi, commander of Morocco’s southern military zone, ordered an army intervention group, probably consisting of two battalions with supporting artillery, to proceed directly to two towns, Jdiria and Hausa, that are in north central Spanish Sahara.

—Algeria reportedly closed its border with Morocco yesterday.

—King Hassan may feel obligated to advance beyond the limited zone agreed upon with Spain as a result of the publication of their agreement. A second column of marchers reportedly has crossed the border some 50 miles east of Tah and a third column may be heading for northeastern Spanish Sahara.

2. The Spanish have some 16,000 army and air force personnel in the Sahara, an amphibious landing force off the coast near the border, and an additional 20,000 located nearby in the Canary Islands. We expect the Spanish to resist forcibly any Moroccan military units encountered; they are likely to resist efforts by the marchers to go beyond the [Page 296] border area, although they may be becoming more flexible on this issue. Spanish forces in or near the area are capable of inflicting a severe defeat on the 15,000 man Moroccan military force deployed in the border area. Spain will also seek a UN resolution denouncing Moroccan aggression.

3. Algeria is estimated to have about 6,000 men based near Tindouf in the tri-border area. There have been reliable reports, however, that Algerian units along the Moroccan border have been reinforced over the past several weeks. Algerian forces are superior to Morocco’s in virtually every category and could win any long term struggle.

4. The Algerians have two major options in responding to the Moroccan intervention in Spanish Sahara:

—Algiers can exert strong diplomatic pressure on Spain while enlisting international support in the UN and providing increased military aid to Polisario forces.

—Algiers can intervene militarily in Spanish Sahara to oppose Moroccan forces there or move across its long western border with Morocco to gain a bargaining chip for a Moroccan withdrawal from Spanish Sahara.

We believe that Algeria is more likely to opt for the former rather than direct military intervention. But if the more indirect action is not effective, the likelihood of direct intervention increases.

5. President Boumediene is now under some domestic pressures and has put his prestige on the line. Although he has carefully avoided making public statements committing himself to specific courses of action or timetables and can, therefore, pull in his horns more easily than Hassan can, if he backs down militarily he may expose himself to internal criticism. A successful outcome for Algeria, on the other hand, would strengthen Boumediene at home and enhance Algeria’s international credentials.

6. A military confrontation with either Spain or Algeria is likely to have serious consequences for King Hassan. A military defeat would unleash strong political currents inside Morocco that would create domestic instability for some time to come and would probably lead to his overthrow.

7. Any fighting in the Sahara would present potential problems for the Spanish government. A quick and decisive Spanish victory over regular Moroccan troops would be a political windfall for Juan Carlos. On the other hand, prolonged fighting with heavy Spanish casualties would be divisive within the government and undermine his position.

8. No matter what the outcome, all three countries are likely to blame the US for not having used sufficient diplomatic pressure to avert the crisis.

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9. This memorandum was drafted by CIA in consultation with the analysts of DIA, State/INR, and NSA. The collection and analytical elements of the Intelligence Community have been alerted and will report further developments through normal channels or in further Alert Memoranda, as appropriate.

W.E. Colby
  1. Summary: Colby provided Kissinger with an assessment of the likelihood of a Moroccan invasion of Spanish Sahara, as well as likely Spanish and Algerian responses to an invasion.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box SCI 23, Geopolitical File, Sahara, November 1975. Secret; [text not declassified]. The memorandum was sent to Kissinger as the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs in error, since he left that office on November 3.