Morocco and Algeria equip themselves with combat drones

Tensions are rising in the Maghreb, where both neighbors are increasing their military spending. A dangerous 

Morocco took delivery this week of the first order of Turkish combat drones as part of a 2019 purchase of 13 Bayraktar TB2 drones. Rabat also purchased four US Reaper drones “as part of the modernization of the Moroccan Armed Forces’ arsenal to be prepared to face any danger and recent hostilities,” reports Far-Maroc forum, a site specializing in military issues. Following this contract, Moroccan military personnel has followed a training program in Turkey in recent weeks, the specialized site said.

For its part, the Algerian air force, which already deploys six types of drones, including four attack drones, has also placed an order for 24 WingLoong II tank-hunting aircraft from China’s AVIC. The first deliveries of this drone, which is faster and more capable than its predecessors, are reportedly scheduled for the end of 2021.

In both cases, these are combat drones equipped with missiles, which target, destroy and return to their base. 

A context of crisis between Algeria and Morocco

These deliveries of drones come in the context of an acute diplomatic crisis between Algeria and Morocco. The recent normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel – in return for American recognition of Moroccan “sovereignty” over Western Sahara – has dramatically increased tensions.

Algiers, which broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco on August 25, 2021, announced in the aftermath the termination of the contract for the operation of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, thus depriving Morocco of part of its gas supplies.

Another sign of extreme tension is Algeria’s decision to close its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military aircraft on September 22, 2021. Including the civil Algiers-Casablanca link, which had never been suspended, even after the closure of the land borders in 1994.

In an interview, Algeria and Morocco have been engaged for several years in an arms race “which risks degenerating into a low-intensity conflict,” says Souleymane Cheikh Hamdi, a Mauritanian expert in international security. However, this defense policy researcher rules out a possible “all-out war between the two brothers for several reasons linked to relations with the European Union. Without this pole of stability in the Maghreb, the whole region would be at risk of being weakened. “However, a low-intensity conflict that can be quickly contained is quite likely in the coming months, if the dynamics of escalation are not reversed,” the researcher believes. 

According to Sheikh Hamdi, what changed the geostrategic deal in the Maghreb, the Sahel, and Africa is the foreign policy of the United States conducted under the administration of Donald Trump and that his successor visibly is renewing with some minor adjustments.

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