The War in Western Sahara

Polisario Flag

Polisario Flag

The current war in the area known as the Western Sahara began in 1975, when the area then known as the Spanish Sahara was evacuated by its Spanish rulers. When Spain left, neighboring Morocco and Mauritania sent in military forces, dividing the former Spanish colony between them. The inhabitants of the region, who call themselves the Saharawi, claimed independence as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. The Saharawis formed a military liberation organization called the Polisario ("Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro"), and had fought against the Spanish since 1973. As their old foes left, the Polisario took up arms against their new foes. Neighboring Algeria, often at odds with Morocco since the 1960s, aided the Polisario with weapons, and by providing a safe haven across the long Moroccan-Algerian border.

The cost of the war soon drove the Mauritanians out of the war on August 5, 1979, allowing Morcocco to occupy the entire Western Sahara in. Fighting between Morocco and the Polisario continued until 1991, when a United Nations-brokered cease-fire took effect that left about 80% of the territory in Moroccan hands. The two sides still have not come to a permanent resolution of the conflict, largely over disagreement over who should participate in the long-promised referendum.


On October 21, 2020, Polisario forces blocked a road that connected Morocco with Mauritania. In November, Moroccan military forces forced open the road, sparking a resurgence in combat between Morocco and the Polisario Front. The Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, declared an end to the nearly 30-year truce with Morocco, as Polisario and Moroccan forces traded fire.

Related Conflicts:

PREDECESSOR: (Related conflicts that occurred before)

The Ifni War (1957)

Zemla Intifada (1970)

Spanish-Sahawari War (1973-1975)


CONCURRENT: (Related conflicts occurring at the same time)

Salakousted Coup in Mauritania (July 10, 1978)


SUCCESSOR: (Related conflicts that occur later)

None at this time.  



Encyclopaedia of the Orient--Encyclopedia entry on Western Sahara.

One World: Western Sahara

Le Courrier de France - L'Echo de POLISARIO

El Karama--Electronic newspaper about Human rights in Western Sahara. In several languages, inluding English and French.

World Factbook 1999 - Western Sahara--Part of the CIA World Factbook site.

Bahara--In Spanish.

ARSO--In English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. This page is a good resource for information on the The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Western Sahara Update--A web page with a lot of links relating to Western Sahara, the war and human rights. In English.

BBC News | Africa | Chronology of the Saharawi struggle

ArabNet -- Mauritania, History, Ould Daddah

1957 Invasion of Spanish Sahara--Wikipedia article

History of Mauritania--Wikipedia article

Morocco Launches Military Operation in Western Sahara Buffer Zone-New York Times, Nov. 13, 2020


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