The Spanish-Moroccan War
By Jose Santos
Madrid, at the presidential bunker under the Moncloa Palace; 22.30 PM
-It was built in the 1980’s just in case the Soviets went bonkers – Mariano Rajoy says while he leads the other members of the emergency government through the dark corridors to the War Room- It is supposed to be able to resist a direct nuclear hit, although we have never tested that properly.
Nobody laughs at the joke attempt. One by one, the members of the government, alongside with several generals and King Juan Carlos enter the War Room in the deepest level of the bunker.
Once everybody is seated, General Sanz is the first to speak:
-Well, ladies and gentlemen, you already know Plan Blue, since we have already been discussing it for the entire afternoon. Plan Blue is the standard contingency plan to repel a Moroccan aggression on the plazas. We have been working on it, refining and adapting it to every changing circumstance ever since we gave the Protectorate back to the moors in ’56. Since this was the most obvious scenario for any foreign aggression to Spanish soil, me and my predecessors have been testing and refining this plan in an almost obsessive way. You can believe me when I tell you almost every possible circumstances are covered by it. After these first confuse hours, from now on the war will be more or less going on autopilot. The Moroccans can still have some little surprise for us, just like that smart gamble withdrawing their most modern planes to improvised airbases out of our reach, but now that we have air superiority over the straits, things will go smoother.
-Which leaves out the question of Melilla –Rodriguez Zapatero still feels a little bit uncomfortable as Vicepresident, and much more uncomfortable in this dark, crowded room.
-The situation in Melilla is stable at the moment. The first strike has been repealed, albeit many more Moroccan troops are on their way. So far, there have been no issues with the civilian population; besides the fact that there is a civilian population.
Everybody grins, thinking for a moment at the political and international implications of the Battle of Melilla becoming a massacre.
-But we can talk about that later- King Juan Carlos’s voice sounds even more nervous than has been in the last hours- As you may have guessed, we are not meeting in this room 40 meters under the street level to speak about matters we have already been arguing in another, more comfortable room up there in the Palace. What we are to discuss here is another, more serious, more secret matter.
-And that is…? – President Rajoy inquires after a few seconds of intrigued silence.
-The matter is, Mariano, that Spain is screwed –Everybody stares for a moment surprised to see the King cursing and giving such a blunt statement-. Not in the military terrain, where we have managed to get a big advantage, but in what’s going to happen later. No matter that we win or lose, we’re going to have a big, angry, unstable neighbour right under us, with a good deal of our population having been born in that big, angry neighbour. When the guns stop, our troubles will have only begun. See how since past September the world seems to have gone crazy. It will go crazier, whether we want it or not. When Admiral Moreno (and God knows he was just executing the best available option) ordered the attack on the Moroccan artillery, he also opened a big can of worms. And now we will have to deal with it for years, maybe decades. Think about terror attacks, our special relationship with the arab world screwed up forever, military occupation of parts of Morocco… whatever.
After a brief silence, General Sanz speaks.
-Which is why Plan Indigo was outlined.
-Plan Indigo, my fellow ministers, is based on this very scenario. We have won the war, but in such a way that the arab world and our southern enemies fucking hate us. Plan Indigo outlines a war strategy to achieve this aim: "Hey, we’re screwed anyway. Why at least not getting some profit? And I mean political and economical profit." We started working on it last year, after the World Trade Center Attacks, when it became clear that any conflict against Morocco would have much wider repercussions.
Everybody, especially the socialist members, look at him, horrified and intrigued at the same time.
-It sounds easier than it seems. Sergeant, if you want…
The general’s aide appears, carrying a box full of folders and papers. He gives one to each member of the meeting.
-This- explains General Sanz- is the last, updated version of Plan Indigo. It involves three subplans in chronological order: Blue, Pink and Black. You can skip the Blue part if you wish, since it is more or less the same Plan Blue you already know. Yes, we use colour codes for both plans and operations. Now, about the other parts…
Everybody starts reading. When they finish, a few minutes later, Vicepresident Zapatero is the first to talk.
-It is a very….risky gamble, to say the least. Although the gains, if these reports are accurate, could be immense.
-Enough to have paid for the war in 4-5 years, according to the most optimistic calculations.
-However, it relies on a very risky operation that will severely strain our transport and logistics capabilities. This looks like the Perejil operation but 100 times bigger. If something goes wrong, it could be a big disaster. It would be like losing the war on purpose after almost winning it.
-Your analysis is accurate, Vicepresident.
-So what are we doing here, ladies and gentlemen- King Juan Carlos interrupts- is to decide whether we implement Plan Indigo or not. The decision must be made as soon as possible, since several preliminary preparations must be started right now. If you have read everything carefully, the rest of the world must think that we were forced by circumstance to adopt this strategy, not that this was something we were aiming at. That means that every preparations must be carefully timed and that foreign involvement, besides the one outlined in the Pink and Black sections, must be kept to the minimum. Which is why we are reunited in this bunker, where we can be sure that no microphones, not even American ones, are hearing us.
-Which directs us to another issue. Minister Durán?
The new Foreign Affairs minister , Josep Duran I Lleida, speaks:
-yours, Josep, is the most difficult role in this little charade. As someone said, "the last thing we need now is some idiot proposing a mediation plan"- Only a few of the government members get the reference and chukle-. You have managed to get EU support about weapon supplying and satellite vigilance. In some moment, someone will come up with a mediation plan or, god forbid, military help. Your task if Indigo is adopted, Josep, is to abort those movements while at the same time not revealing our true intentions. Will you be able to do so?
-It will be difficult, General Sanz, but, if it is necessary, I will do it.
-Excellent. So now, members of the cabinet, after reading the plan and discussing it, do we, as the government of Spain, approve adopting Indigo or should we stick to Blue?
At 1130 PM, the aide of General Sanz sends an encrypted message from the Bunker to the Ministry of Defense. The code means that all operational and strategic plans must be switched to Indigo condition.
DAY 2: JULY 18TH 2002
July 18th has been a significant date in Spanish life since 1936. That day started the civil war, whose shadow still keeps haunting Spanish society and politics. For almost 40 years, it was a day for the Spaniards to celebrate the tyrant and the beginning of the civil war; for the past 25 it has ben a normal summer day for most Spaniards, except the most left and right wing ones. In this day, the war that started 20 hours before will reach new peaks of violence, while the great powers are unable to stop it.
Casualties in both sides have already reached the hundreds, both dead and wounded. The Moroccans have lost many men, artillery, a good deal of their most modern aircraft and their entire fleet at the Mediterranean sea. The Spaniards have also lost several planes, a frigate, and several dozens of soldiers, along with 2 of the 5 plazas. Only time will tell if the Spanish public is able to sustain these casualty rates without asking for a ceasefire.
0.00AM: in the Ministry of Defense, activity becomes frenetic as the first steps are being taken to adopt battle plans to Indigo. For the first hours or days, the military effects of this will be negligible: some units receiving slightly different orders, some others not being deployed, some others receiving different supply priorities.
The fighting in Congress Island rages on as both sides are unable to advance. The Moroccan marines are bogged down in the beach while the small garrison is unable to repeal them.
In Ceuta and Melilla, fighting has slowed down due to darkness, allowing a faster evacuation of civilians. Approximately ¼ of both cities’ population is already safe in mainland Spain, where a serious problem with refugees will arise in the following days. However, both commanders know that the new day will bring new, fresh Moroccan troops to attack, while they cannot expect many reinforcements. The commandant at Melilla receives authorization to surrender if the situation becomes unsustainable for both his troops and the remaining civilian population.
In most major Spanish cities, policemen are busy repressing racist incidents and rioting.
3AM: After hours of conversations, the Spanish diplomats have managed to ensure almost unlimited oil, ammo and weapons supplies from their EU counterparts. Even the initially reluctant French agree to this.
The Spanish consulate at Karachi is burned by demonstrators
Pacifist groups start a demonstration at the Spanish embassy in Canberra to protest for what they see as an imperialist aggression at a helpless 3rd world country. This is the first of many similar demonstrations that will be held across the world in the following days. In many cases, they end up in chaotic 3-sided riots when the protestors meet rightwingers and neonazis who support the Spaniards, and arab immigrants protesting against them.
Taking advantage of the night, the remaining Moroccan airforce launches a raid on Melilla. The short raid doesn’t cause much material damage on the city defenses, but is effective on demoralizing the defenders. A similar raid supporting the advance on Ceuta fails when Spanish planes destroy the small Moroccan force.
The defenders of Congress Island are finally relieved when the frigate Reina Sofía, en route from Cartagena to the strait, opens fire on the Moroccan forces at the Chafarinas.
Spanish prisoners from Velez and Alhucemas arrive to improvised camps on Northern Morocco.
In Washington, the US government has finally decided for a neutral policy. Neither side seems to be willing to negotiate, and while Morocco seems to have been the attacked country, Spain is a valuable NATO ally. Surprisingly, the Spanish diplomats do not seem to insist too much on getting US support. President Bush "indecisiveness" will be very attacked in the following days.
4AM: Commandos from the Rabassa base arrive to Alboran Island in several helicopters, en route to Congress Island, to help repeal the Moroccan landing.
6AM: Radio anchorman and right-wing pundit Federico Jimenez Losantos [note to non-spaniards: FJL is like having Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’reilly and Lord Haw-Haw all in the same person] starts his popular morning program. In an enraged speech, he praises ex-president Aznar for inflicting a decisive blow to islamofascists and reminds the audience that "the greatest democracy ever, the US of A, interned in camps all the Japanese population during WWII. I can’t see why we can’t do the same with the shitmoors [literal translation of the Spanish insult moromierda]. Even if the coward leftists and Catalonians whine about it, that will only make them look like bigger pansies than they are". This inflamed speech will contribute to worsen the security situation in most big cities.
In Ceuta and Melilla combats resume as day breaks out.
In Melilla, the defenders of the city are beginning to be overwhelmed by the Moroccan pressure despite the air and naval support. Moroccan tanks manage to break out and occupy the airport landing strips, while a Legion regiment tries to hold onto the airport terminal and control tower. Several other defensive strongpoints are under very heavy Moroccan pressure. The Spanish commander knows that he can’t hold much longer.
In Ceuta, the situation, while difficult, is not as desperate as in the other city. While the mauled Numancia has withdrawn to Rota, supported by the Navarra, the Alvaro de Bazán and other two frigates are providing naval support to the city defenders. Even so, when several Moroccan fresh regiments supported by M-60, Leclerc and t-72 tanks, the Spaniards have to abandon several defensive positions at the city outskirts and withdraw towards the industrial parks that surround Ceuta.
24 hours after the battle for perejil started, and since the island has no military value, the surviving commandos, along with the Moroccan prisoners and the bodies of their fallen comrades, are evacuated from the island, leaving only a Spanish flag on top of it.
At the base of the Brunete Armoured Division near Madrid, activity is frenetic as the division [it actually is more of a reinforced brigade, but meh] prepares to move south in case a landing on northern morocco becomes unavoidable. Similar preparations are undertaken at marine division headquarters in Rota, the Light Airborne Brigade at Pontevedra, and the Guzman El Bueno Mechanized Division at Murcia.
A couple of regiments from the Brunete, btw, is being kept apart from the rest of the division. Instead of readying the tanks into the transports, they’re being moved to the division warehouses to be repainted…
7AM: Commandos supported by attack helicopters land at the northern shore of Congress Island to support the already faltering garrison.
American surveillance detects an unnatural amount of encrypted communications from the Ministry of Defense to the Spanish embassy at Algiers.
7.30 AM: The first Remember the Numancia stickers start to leave the printing presses at Valladolid and Valencia. They are an initiative of a patriotic (and opportunistic) businessman. Thousands will be sold during the war. Similar Remember El Horra, or even Remember 711 stickers will also be sold in Morocco and most arab countries.
8AM: trapped at the beach, after 10 hours of sustained combat (in some moments even hand-to-hand combat) and with their light boats sunken by the Spanish helicopters, the Moroccan marines at Congress Island surrender. Finally, the Spaniards have been able to repel a Moroccan land attack. News of this first land victory of the war will son arrive to Spain, only to be shadowed by more important developments in the following hours.
830 AM: 30 hours of airspace closure in Spain have driven air traffic patterns all over Europe into chaos. Thousands of tourists have decided to leave the country by road, leading to amazing traffic jams at the border passes with France. However, as hours pass and the feared Moroccan strike fails to materialize, many tourists decide to stay.
9AM: Polish and American SFOR soldiers take the role of their Spanish and Moroccan counterparts as peacekeeping forces around Mostar.
In Afghanistan, Italian troops will take the role of their Spanish counterparts, who will endure several attacks to their bases in the following days.
An engineer regiment from the Legion arrives to the Lanzarote airport and starts works to enlarge the landing strips so warplanes can operate from there.
930AM; The situation in Melilla is getting worse for the city defenders. Moroccan numerical superiority and the city situation are making up for the Spanish air superiority. The Spanish commander contacts with Madrid to report about the Moroccan assault and the danger of a pitched street battle.
940AM: After a brief conversation with General Sanz Roldán and President Rajoy, the Melilla commandant is authorized to start an evacuation of as many troops as possible and then surrender the city before his men are overrun.
Despite the fact that Spanish plans predicted a Moroccan land advantage in the first 48 hours of conflict, things are looking grim for the Spanish in North Africa…
10AM: After two days of conversations and international pressure, the Straits are reopened to civilian traffic. There is little point to its closing now that the Moroccan fleet and airforce cannot pose a significant threat. Spanish and American governments agree that American warships based at Rota control the civilian traffic through the Straits: Around 1000 ships are waiting at southern spain and Portugal ports. Anyway, the divisions moving south for an eventual invasion of Morocco will still need a couple of days to be ready.
In Madrid, the traditional 18th july demonstration by francoist nostalgics starts under heavy security measures.
Evacuation by sea and helicopter of Spanish soldiers at Melilla, mainly intelligence officials, Special operations soldiers and soldierwomen starts while their comrades try to hold the line at the city gates.
1030AM: Situation in downtown Madrid worsens as neofascist demonstrators celebrate July 18th by attacking arab stores at the Lavapies district. Molotov Cocktails launched against the M-30 mosque, the largest mosque in Europe. When Moroccan immigrants retaliate, a large scale riot erupts. This situation is repeated in almost all major Spanish cities, with coordinated attacks from extreme right-wingers on Islamic districts and retaliation attacks by angry immigrants.
11AM: The commander at Melilla asks for a ceasefire to his Moroccan counterpart to discuss terms for an honourable surrender without too much damage to civilians, while the evacuation of the city continues as fast as ships can leave the port.
In Madrid, planners at the Ministry of Defense realize that the Spanish airforce has only air-to-ground missiles for at most 2 or 3 days worth of combat. More missiles must be bought at once. The fleet is also starting to run out of ammo.
Rioting breaks out at banlieue districts in several major French cities.
12PM: After several failed tries to contact and a short but tense conversation, both the Spanish and Moroccan commanders at the Melilla theatre of operations agree to a Spanish surrender of the city to prevent a great loss of civilian lives.
In Ceuta, the situation is stable; with the Spaniards holding off the Moroccans but unable to break the siege due to numerical inferiority. The Moroccans have been able to capture some slums and an industrial park in the southern edge of the city, but cannot advance further due to the strong defensive position the Spaniards have [look Ceuta up at google maps and see how that city’s geography is a nightmare for any attacker; it’s like Gibraltar on steroids]
12.30PM: Rioting in Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Murcia and Barcelona going on with full intensity. The mayor of Madrid is seriously considering to ask for military help and put the city under martial law.
To complicate things further, ETA decides to join the party by murdering a Guardia Civil agent at a roadblock near San Sebastián.
After 36 hours of closure, the Spanish airspace is reopened, except for an exclusion zone 100 miles around the straits. Thousands of tourists make long queues waiting for the next plane in crowded airports patrolled by soldiers and guarded by tanks and APC’s.
1PM: the last ship leaves Melilla port; minutes later the Spanish defenders surrender to the Moroccan army.
In Algiers, Spanish diplomats (some of them actually being intelligence agents) reach an agreement with Algerian counterparts.
Some other diplomats and secret agents are travelling towards Tindouf, in Southern Algeria…
1.15PM: News of the fall of Melilla make it to international media. All over Morocco, crowds gather in the streets to celebrate the Liberation of Melilla, hoping that Ceuta follows soon and the war is over.
In Spain, whatever little opposition to the war remained, most of it disappears when the first images of Legion soldiers surrendering to Moroccan forces and the Moroccan flag waving above Melilla’s town hall are broadcasted.
1.30PM: King Juan Carlos makes his 2nd speech in two days pointing out that Melilla was surrendered to prevent a great loss of civilian lives and that the war effort will continue until Melilla is liberated and the Spanish possessions in North Africa are acknowledged by Morocco.
Celebrations continue at Morocco and other Islamic countries.
Around 40000 civilians from Ceuta and Melilla have been evacuated to mainland Spain. Many have managed to find a place at family or friends’ houses, while the rest are giving a serious headache to the Spanish government. Finally, after hours of calls and negotiations, the refugees are installed at the same hotels all over Andalusia that thousands of tourists abandoned the day before, with the Spanish government paying the bill.
2PM: Moroccan units complete their occupation of Melilla while the last ships carrying Spanish troops head to the mainland. Melilla will be put under curfew and martial law until a definitive ceasefire is reached.
As if to counter the Moroccan euphoria, the Spanish airforce launches the first major strike of the day, and the biggest one in the entire war, when 93 planes operating from the bases in southern spain we already know and the Canary Islands bomb the civilian airports of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers, Nador, and Fez to prevent the landing of supplies sent by the Arab League.
In the northern tip of Morocco, the triangle formed by Ceuta, Tangiers and Tetouan has become a nightmarish landscape of bombed roads filled by refugees and soldiers, wrecked equipment and craters created by the constant air, naval and artillery bombardments.
After the fall of Melilla and the Moroccan failure to take the Chafarinas, military activity for the next 36 hours will be reduced to the heavy fighting around Ceuta and occasional air raids. Most of the action will now happen in the diplomatic, public security and covert action fronts.
2.30PM: What seems to be a normal freighter leaves the port of Alicante with destination Algiers. It just seems to be a normal freighter since a) the ship is manned by Spanish navy men, b) she is escorted by a submerged submarine and c) her load is *not* furniture and cars.
3PM: The Spanish delegation in the UN states that no mediation proposal will be accepted until Spanish troops have again entered Melilla and the Moroccan army agrees to a withdrawal south of the Larache-Ksar el Kbir line. Negotiations for a ceasefire are indefinitely stalled.
In the Western Sahara, large columns of Moroccan soldiers, tanks, artillery and helicopters, move north towards the combat zones, halving Moroccan military presence in the Western Sahara.
At his humble official residence in Tindouf, Sahrawi president-in-exile Mohammed Abdelaziz receives some unexpected visitors.
4PM: In their first active action in the entire war, Spanish planes based off Gran Canaria bomb the Moroccan air base at El Aaiun, capital of the western Sahara.
In Ceuta, the defenders are starting to run out of ammo, although the Spanish navy is making desperate efforts to supply the city with ammunition and fresh troops while evacuating as many civilians as possible. The reopening of the straits to navigation only makes matters worse, as the danger of ships colliding is very high.
4.30PM: more Spanish cultural centers, consulates and embassies attacked all over the muslim world.
In America, the news on the War of the Straits have displaced Afghanistan and the WorldCom scandal from the front pages. At both sides of the political spectrum, analists and pundits argue on whether supporting Spain or not. Radicals urge for bombing of Morocco while moderates note that this war has nothing to do with the Great War on Terror, and that Spain attacked first. Similar heated debates are held also in Europe and the rest of the Western World.
5PM: The sahrawi government meets after President Abdelaziz’s visitors have left.
In Ceuta, the remaining civilians are ordered to leave the outer city districts and take shelter at downtown, behind the two bridges that link the city center island with the mainland. All of them notice the engineer units at both bridges, ready to blow them up if necessary.
After swift negotiations, planes loaded with missiles, high explosive ammunition and so on land in Madrid and Sevilla as part of the promised EU support. The Spanish army won’t have to worry about ammunition for another week.
5.30PM: the Moroccan army has managed to get a foothold at the two dams that supply water to Ceuta, getting an advantage position on the hills that surround the city and menacing the center of the Spanish line.
Engineers arrive to the Fuerteventura airport to enlarge the landing strips. Airports at Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are militarized and closed to civilian traffic and visitors: those wishing to leave the islands will have to board a ferry and take a plane at either Las Palmas or Tenerife.
Tourists and travellers driving by the A-4 highway between Madrid and Sevilla witness a large column of Leopard tanks and military trucks heading south. In a few hours grainy video footage from this are being broadcast all over the world: the Spanish army may be readying for a full-fledged invasion.
In the Ministry of Defense at Madrid, official spokesmen report about the last advancements in the war. Ceuta is holding out despite the increasing pressure of the attackers, the airforce has attacked targets at El Aaiun, Tangiers and what starts being known as the Death Road of Morocco: the N-13 road linking Tetouan and Ceuta.
In a bunker some meters below that, intelligence analysts have finally discovered the remaining Moroccan airfields near the Algerian border…
6PM: Madrid Police, supported by the Guardia Civil and even GEO [Spanish SWAT] have finished to repress what will be known as the July 18th Riot. There are 10 dead, hundreds of hurt and detained. Property damage is counted on millions.
7PM: Pope John Paul II asks for a ceasefire between both nations. His petition has the same success than the UN one.
At the Cartagena and Rota naval bases, the 4 Galicia and Pizarro class amphibious ships are being prepared for an invasion.
Red Cross members arrive to the improvised prisoner camps in Northern Morocco. They report that the prisoners are being well treated despite the rudimentary nature of the camps.
In Occupied Melilla, the city mayor meets the Moroccan commander, who assures him that the situation will be normalized in a few days. For now, the city streets are empty, except for Moroccan checkpoints and patrols.
10 PM: the sahrawi government finishes a long, disputed meeting. They finally have a decision…
1030 PM: The load of the Spanish freighter is finally unloaded at Algiers port. It will head south.
After the frenetical pace of events since the dawn of July 17th, the situation has gone calmer during most of the 18th. This calm will still last for a couple of days until Operations Blue and Pink break out…
Plan of Melilla: