A Journey In the Desert Part 4
Midday. Scorpions and snakes all over the place. The task force tried desperately not to use water that much, but in places like these, a mere drop of water on the ground gets the invisible wildlife out of their hideouts and look for the precious liquid, with the inevitable struggle for man to keep off the deadly strike. After some tribesmen had joined the growing crowd, it was decided to split the party in six sub-outfits, no more than 20-30 men-strong raiding force each, with occasional meetings for reports and resupply when time and opportunities permit.
Beforehand, the party organised itself in a long column, and then moved slowly towards the next checkpoint, a deep ridge secure enough to operate the dispatch and send out the orders. This was a moment in which the column was at its most vulnerable state, for the men dismounted from their camels and unloaded their supplies. They looked defenceless, as indeed they were, for they had to look after their cooking, or to get some rest to recover from the exhausting raiding parties, or to spend some leisure time for rhetorical argument or tale telling. The wilaya, when peaceful, was more of a group of shepherds looking after their flocks, than an aggressive outfit seeking and destroying.
At the ridge, Ayour gathered his men, and proceeded with the regular reading of the latest dispatches. The raids they carried out near Sidi Ifni were successful on the whole, all of which are prelude to a large-scale offensive scheduled next month against the city itself. In the event of a success, the Spanish might accept it as a fait accompli, and call truce for negotiations. However, Sidi Ifni was just a phase, a preliminary stage to a much wider, much more ambitious offensive. Already the other Wilayas are strangling Spanish strongholds and inflicting great damage their presence on the Western Sahara is more and more questionable, Ayour thought it to be more than lyrical propaganda, he could see it in the field with his column getting luckier by the day in its happy and deadly raids.
The next weeks were quieter. much of the operations were punctual harassment around the wells, long-range reconnaissance and occasional night-raids, with endless afternoons arguing with the tribes in order to gain their loyalty. The raids were randomly successful, for the MLA had to rely on its loot, as the supplies from Morocco had to cross farther to get to destination. Apart from the herds the allied tribes fed on, there was not much to look for. Within months, the wilaya disrupted much of the outposts, cut much of communication lines and capture amounts of supplies so important that the Spanish, on the verge of loosing grip on the immediate outskirts of Sidi Ifni as well as the city itself, decided to move some front-line troops in. The Foreign Legion was therefore the provide garrison for Sidi Ifni, Villa Cisarenos and Cap Juby, as well as some strategic wells along the coast. The inland desert, however, was left undefended before the MLA.
La Ferte kept receiving the Spanish reports. He was puzzled: the mobs attack in small numbers, in Commando-style. A couple of mortar shells, lightning-bolt attacks and constant overrunning of small outposts. When the attack was unsuccessful, no wounded and no corpses were left on the battlefield. Truly the most formidable enemy ever. La Ferte knew the MLA had the support of the Reguibat and Oulad Dlim, as well as other tribes, the desert was turning more and more pro-Moroccan. As the key man in field intelligence, he was, despite being of junior rank, at the centre of a huge conspiracy.
He knew the Monarchy was at odds with the MLA and some elements of the Istiqlal party. His contacts in Rabat and Agadir mentioned an ambiguous behaviour from the Crown Prince and his aides towards the MLA. Officially, Morocco does not recognize the MLA as such, but in practise, weapons and supplies are flowing from Agadir southwards. The truth however, was that the Moroccan position was more of a conflictual nature than a carefully laid plan. In his intelligence work, his assessment of the Monarchy’s stand was, without doubt, as an ally to France.
La Ferte, in his sketches for intelligence warfare strategy, put forward a couple of proposals. He called for labelling the MLA mob as communists and atheists, because in his opinion that would give a good scope of the wider claim that the Soviet Union wants to destroy Islam in North Africa, that Egypt is their puppet there and that their projects were a danger to Islam in the Arab world. Then, he managed to gather some sympathetic locals and successfully managed to make the idea of creating a country West of the AOF inevitable. Mauritania, he thought, would be an invaluable ally for France’s stand there. The Union Française won’t last much longer, and the soon-to-become independent African countries will need French support against any communist infiltration. Furthermore, La Ferte was very fond of the saying “Divide & Rule”. Mauritania as a country would effectively weaken the Moroccan nationalists and left-wingers and give France a “second front” from which it could concentrate on its present plight, the troubles in Algeria as well.
The French officer had other plans for the short term. As the executive commander of the Ad Hoc unit, the 4th CMSM (Compagnie Mixte Saharienne Motorisee). This outfit consists mainly of veteran Legionnaires and Meharistes from other units, would provide the reconnaissance support for the upcoming offensive scheduled for early spring 1958. Time is of the essence in order to insure the crushing of the impudent mobs.