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Mauritania Table of Contents


The Independence Period and the French Military Legacy

In the 1950s and 1960s, France signed defense treaties with many of the new African states. Its bilateral treaty with Mauritania provided for permanent base facilities for up to 3,000 French troops in Mauritania to support French interests in Algeria and to deter Morocco's irredentist claims. The three-part agreement provided for the transfer of men, units, equipment, and installations from France to form the basis of Mauritania's army; it provided military training programs and supplies; and it promised assistance by French personnel in the external and internal defense of the country. Mauritania controlled both external defense and internal security; France assisted if requested.

According to the agreement, Mauritanian nationals serving with the French army could either return to their country to form the nucleus of the new army or remain in the French army with permission of the Mauritanian government. In both cases, they retained pension rights. In addition, the colonial gendarmerie was transferred in toto to the new government. The army and the gendarmerie were equipped at no charge by France, and France offered sophisticated and expensive logistical support to the Mauritanian Army. In return, Mauritania agreed to purchase all of its military equipment from France. Although the French retained the air base at Atar and units of the army remained at PortEtienne (present-day Nouadhibou) and Fort Trinquet (present-day Bir Moghre´n), Mauritania gained control of all other military installations in the country.

French commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) filled out the command cadres and organized intensive training programs for Mauritanian recruits. In addition, France agreed to train a number of Mauritanian officers at French military academies at French expense (see Manpower and Military Training Schools , this ch.). In return, Mauritania agreed not to send trainees to any other country. To manage the training and organization of the new army and to coordinate the technical assistance program, the French military established an aid office in Nouakchott. At the same time, Mauritania and France also signed two other defenserelated accords. The first was the Complementary Agreement on Raw Materials and Strategic Elements, whereby Mauritania granted priority of the sale of liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons, uranium, thorium, lithium, beryllium, and helium to France. The second was the Status of Forces Agreement, which covered judicial treatment of the several thousand French troops stationed in Mauritania.

France continued its military assistance and defense cooperation throughout the 1960s; meanwhile, it reduced its military presence to a handful of officers and NCOs in training programs. By 1966 the last French troops had withdrawn from Mauritania and transferred their bases to the Mauritanian armed forces. At the same time, more Mauritanians attended advance officer training courses in France.

The replacement of French troops stationed in Africa with intervention forces stationed in France was an integral part of the reorganization of French defense policy started in 1959 under General Charles de Gaulle and followed by the successive governments of the French Fifth Republic. Under this new defense policy, the French deemed military bases of any considerable size (as well as transit facilities, technical support, and refueling stations) too much of a political risk in independent Africa.

Data as of June 1988