Mauritania began mobilizing military troops along its northern borders this week, planning exercises to deter further Polisario aggression amid security concerns in Western Sahara.
Rabat — Mauritania is preparing this week for a series of military exercises in the country’s north following a Polisario attack near its border in January. At the time, Polisario forces directed rocket fire towards the border city of Guerguerat, according to local newspaper Sahara Medias.
The exercises are anticipated to take place between this weekend and early next week. They are designed to highlight Mauritania’s regional strength amid increasing regional instability and concerns of military aggression in the Sahara.
In advance of the maneuvers, the Mauritanian military deployed additional troops Monday into the northwestern region of Tiris Zemmour, which stretches along the country’s borders with Algeria and Western Sahara.
Mauritanian army forces from three separate military regions — Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Adrar, and Tiris Zemmour — will participate in the exercises. They will do so alongside several of the army’s elite special units, including counterterrorism forces, paratroopers, and aerial patrols.
The deployment comes amid growing concerns about growing tensions and instability in Western Sahara, in part fueled by the United States’ recognition of Morocco’s position in December.
On January 6, Mauritania’s Council of Ministers established a “sensitive defense zone” along the country’s northern borders. The defensive zone seeks to secure the region from the threat of criminal organizations while bolstering border defense in the event of regional conflict.
The policy described northern Mauritania as an empty region that “may constitute a place of transit for terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized crime groups.”
However, pundits on both sides of the conflict were quick to infer that Mauritania’s military decree likely had more to do with tensions in Western Sahara than concerns over criminal activity.
Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, a former Polisario officer with a large social media following, argued via his Facebook page that Mauritania’s policy decision related more to the Western Sahara conflict than to general security.
In January, Polisario launched four rockets towards Guerguerat, a small village on the Morocco-Mauritania border, in an adversarial move that drew heavy criticism from regional powers.
“There was harassing fire near the area of Guerguerat, but it did not affect the trunk road, traffic was not disrupted,” a senior Moroccan official told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It’s been part of a cycle of harassment for more than three months.”
Morocco is not the only regional actor angered by Polisario’s recent aggression.
Last month, an anonymous source told regional news outlet Anbaa that Mauritania plans to withdraw its recognition of Polisario’s Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) before the end of the current presidential term.
“[Mauritania] has become a strong country at the regional level and at the military level, which has been classified as one of the stronger armies on the continent,” the source affirmed. “It is now able to take the historic decision that serves its strategic geopolitical interests and the interests of stability and security of the entire region away from pressures and fear.”