Has Morocco carried out its first drone strike in Western Sahara?

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Morocco’s reported use of a drone strike to kill a senior Western independence fighter would, if confirmed, mark a turning level in the decades-long battle, consultants say.

The Polisario Front introduced on Wednesday that its police chief Addah al-Bendir had been killed “on the field of honour” in a separatist-controlled a part of the disputed desert territory.

A Polisario official later advised AFP that Bendir had been killed by a Moroccan drone after participating in a navy operation close to a sand barrier separating Moroccan and Polisario-controlled zones.

The location and circumstances of his demise are murky, and the North African kingdom has not launched any particulars. But Moroccan and Algerian press shops have carried stories {that a} drone was concerned.

Moroccan navy knowledgeable Abdelhamid Harifi advised AFP that “officially, Morocco doesn’t have armed drones — but it has a whole range of state-of-the-art unarmed drones”.

The kingdom has been “a regional pioneer in using drones for intelligence and to identify targets”, he added. “It’s possible that the army used such a drone to pinpoint suspect movement in the buffer zone.”

Bendir’s demise comes after a long time of simmering rigidity between Morocco and the Polisario rose sharply in November after Rabat deployed the military to reopen the dominion’s solely freeway into West Africa.

The Polisario, which has lengthy demanded a referendum on an impartial state, had blocked the freeway arguing that it was constructed in violation of a 1991 truce deal.

The Polisario has since introduced every day assaults towards Morocco, which controls many of the former Spanish colony and has provided autonomy below its personal administration, although claims are tough to independently confirm in the hard-to-access space.

Moroccan navy knowledgeable Mohamed Chiker mentioned the character of the operation focusing on Bendir, a deadly strike past the sand barrier, was unprecedented since a 1991 UN-backed ceasefire.

But he mentioned it was “hard to prove” {that a} drone had been used.

The Sahrawi defence ministry mentioned Bendir had fallen in Tifariti, part of the Western Sahara below Polisario management, after a “military mission”.

That assertion, launched by means of official information company SPS, was later eliminated with out clarification.

Several media shops mentioned the Polisario had attacked inside Morocco, in the area of Touizgui close to the Algerian border.

That would imply that “Algeria is allowing Polisario soldiers to enter Morocco from Algerian territory”, warned the semi-official Moroccan information web site Le 360.

Moroccan information web site Le Desk reported that Bendir had been killed in a “joint mission by an unarmed (French-Israeli) Harfang drone” that situated the goal, permitting a fighter jet to hold out the strike.

The use of a drone “would mean that Morocco is starting targeted strikes like the United States and Israel in retaliation to the Polisario’s attempted incursions”, it mentioned.

In neighbouring Algeria, information web site Algerie Patriotique pointed to using “killer drones” with “technical assistance” from Israel.

The Moroccan press reported late final yr that the dominion had taken supply of three Harfang drones, in addition to ordering Israeli Bluebirds and American MQ-9B SkyGuardians — which don’t seem to have been delivered but.

Washington in December recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, in trade for Rabat normalising ties with Israel.

The kingdom’s rising capabilities had already raised it from sixtieth to 53rd place on the Global Firepower Index, rating navy power.

The Polisario, for its half, has “an arsenal that has barely changed since the 1980s, and whose modernisation is totally dependent on its Algerian protector,” Jeune Afrique reported in November.

Whether a drone was used in the killing of Bendir stays an open query for now.

But Chiker mentioned that both approach, the killing was an illustration that Morocco “is in military control of the entire (Western) Sahara, and has an arsenal capable of striking” the Polisario wherever in the territory.

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