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Civic Action and Disaster Relief


A soldier supervises food distribution.
Courtesy United States Agency for International Development

As a result of drought and desertification throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the government charged the armed forces with epidemic eradication and disaster relief. In addition, the military engineering corps engaged in agricultural development and road maintenance.

Foreign Military Assistance

At independence the French colonial army in Mauritania provided the armed forces with weapons and matériel. Later, in the 1960s and early 1970s, France supplemented Mauritania's defense capacity, training, and matériel as specified in various defense agreements, which provided for mutual defense assistance, for training Mauritanian officers in French military schools, for French overflying rights, and for Mauritanian facilities for French aircraft and naval vessels (see The Independence Period and the French Military Legacy , this ch.). In 1973 Mauritania moved to reduce its dependency on France by unilaterally abandoning these agreements, and on September 2, 1976, Mauritania and France replaced the defense agreement with a technical military pact, which called only for establishment of the military school at Atar; Mauritania refused all other defenserelated accords.

Despite these attempts to sever ties with France, Polisario raids in the mid-1970s forced Mauritania again to seek increased military assistance. France, along with Morocco and Spain, stepped up military arms deliveries. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Kuwait, all of whom supported fellow monarch King Hassan of Morocco and therefore were anti-Polisario, also financed arms purchases. It was reported that Mauritania received 30 French armored cars and 100 British Land Rovers (some equipped with 120mm recoilless guns) to increase its military mobility and that Saudi Arabia sent ten Pucara aircraft and other military matériel.

The French also sent sixty military specialists to work at the EMIA and supplied arms on a commercial basis. But France's low-key military commitment to Mauritania changed abruptly when in May and October 1977 the Polisario killed two French nationals and kidnapped six others, all of whom were employees of the National Mining and Industrial Company (Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière--SNIM) at Zou#irât. In response to these raids, France installed a military telecommunications system, provided air support for the Mauritanian-Moroccan forces, and supplied troops (from the French base in Senegal) and military advisers, all to protect French citizens and their investments in Mauritania. The French did not react when, a year later, the Daddah regime fell.

As Mauritania's defenses deteriorated, it relied even more heavily on Morocco, until by February 1978 the number of Moroccan soldiers in Mauritania reached 10,000 men. In June 1977, the two countries merged their military commands into the Supreme Defense Council. Two Moroccan battalions protected Nouadhibou and the railroad to Zou#irât, where two more Moroccan battalions were stationed. In January 1978, the Supreme Defense Council placed another two Moroccan battalions at Akjoujt and Atar. By this time, Moroccan troops were stationed in all of Mauritania's major towns except Nouakchott.

France also took an increasingly active role as the war progressed. French personnel, the numbers of which had increased from 60 in 1977 to just over 300 in 1978, fully controlled Mauritanian Army training, and France had 1,200 troops stationed in nearby Senegal ready for emergencies. After the military coup in July 1978 and the subsequent cease-fire, however, the number of French military personnel in Mauritania decreased rapidly. By August 1978, only twenty French military and technical experts remained. The number of nonmilitary experts and advisers had increased, however. Daily flights from the military base at Dakar continued, and although French combat air operations ceased, reconnaissance flights over Mauritanian territory by French aircraft continued. Moreover, the number of French troops at Dakar had increased to 3,000. After the Mauritanian-Polisario peace treaty in August 1979, which saw Morocco remove the bulk of its troops from Mauritania, France agreed to double its military aid to help Mauritania rebuild a small but efficient army.

Shortly thereafter, however, Mauritania reversed its security alliances. Relations with Morocco and France soured while relations with Algeria improved. In May 1980, the CMSN expelled 200 French advisers and technical personnel, thus terminating French training programs at Nouadhibou and French military air communications at Lamantin, near Nouakchott. After the March 16, 1981, pro-Moroccan coup attempt, Mauritania turned to Algeria, which began to supply the sophisticated antiaircraft armaments Mauritania had previously lacked. By 1981 Algeria was lending military assistance in the form of training and matériel.

In the early 1980s, in the face of persistent regional instability, Nouakchott again turned to Paris for security assurances. In response, the French revived a 1976 military assistance convention providing for thirty training specialists to serve in the modernization of the Mauritanian forces. In March 1987, Jacques Foccart, adviser to the French prime minister, traveled to Mauritania with a message from Prime Minister Jacques Chirac expressing France's desire to continue its military assistance. In 1987 France revised its 1976 military cooperation agreement with Mauritania, incorporating the three standard points of French technical military accords: the disposition of French military personnel within the Mauritanian military, military training for Mauritanians in France, and provision of military matériel and logistical assistance.

Algeria also offered support to the Mauritanian military. Algerian president Chadli Bendjedid visited Mauritania in April 1987 to discuss the Western Sahara conflict. He expressed "Algeria's support to the Mauritanian people and their leader in everything related to Mauritania's security, stability, and unity." In particular, he offered to send Algerian troops to Mauritania to protect the petroleum refinery at Nouadhibou, which had been renovated and was being managed by Algeria (see Energy , ch. 3). The Mauritanian government, however, refused his offer, citing its strict neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict. Meanwhile, in 1987 Mauritania received substantial military technology, logistical support, and direct budget subventions from several foreign countries, including Canada, France, Kuwait, Algeria, and Morocco.

Data as of June 1988

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