US wiki cable: Moroccan general controls fisheries in Western Sahara

"Credible reports indicate that Lt Gen Benanni is using his position as the Commander of the Southern Sector to skim money from military contracts and influence business decisions. A widely believed rumor has it that he owns large parts of the fisheries in Western Sahara", a new Wiki-leaked US embassy cable states.

Published 03 December 2010

The new document from August 2008, on corruption in the ranks of the Moroccan army, appeared today in the Spanish newspaper El País

The new document mentions a widely spread rumour that Sahrawis have known for years: that a handful of top Moroccan army officials control fisheries and business operations in Western Sahara. 

WSRW has on several occasions been pointed to specific company names and fishing vessels said to belong to high rank military officials in Western Sahara. 

Date:2008-08-04 16:13:00
Source:Embassy Rabat


DE RUEHRB #0727/01 2171613
P 041613Z AUG 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L RABAT 000727



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/24/2028

Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Thomas T. Riley for reasons 1.4
(a) and (b).

1. (C) Summary: The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR) are
modernizing but remain weighed down by long-standing
problems. King Mohammed VI, who in 1999 inherited a military
in need of professionalization, has implemented some needed
reforms, but much remains to be done. Civilian control, if
ascribed to the person of the King, is complete, but there is
no real Defense Ministry. Outside the FAR, there is only a
small administration. The military remains plagued by
corruption, an inefficient bureaucracy, low levels of
education in the ranks, periodic threats of radicalization of
some of its soldiers, political marginalization, and the
deployment of most of its forces in the Western Sahara.
There have been some indications of pending changes in the
leadership. In general, the U.S. and Morocco share a robust
military relationship with prospects for even closer ties in
the future. The health of the relationship is evident by
increased U.S.-Moroccan military training exercises and
Morocco's purchase of sophisticated weapons from the U.S. to
include 24 F-16s this year. We anticipate that the
U.S.-Moroccan military relationship will continue to flourish
but Morocco's ability to absorb its new high-end military
purchases and restrictions on high quality Moroccan
information sharing with our attaches represent two
challenges ahead. This mission-coordinated report draws
heavily on valuable reporting and analysis from the embassy's
military components, the Defense Attache Office and the
Office of Security Cooperation. End Summary.

All the King's Men

2. (C) As Commander-in-Chief of the Moroccan Royal Armed
Forces and Minister of Defense, King Mohammed VI maintains a
highly centralized role over the military. No troop
movements, exercises, or even travel of officers domestically
or abroad happens without the King,s approval. As a result
of the 1971 and 1972 coup attempts by the Moroccan Army and
Air Force respectively, the Palace increased control over the
military, marginalized it from policy making, and restricted
its interaction with foreign military interlocutors and the
press. The Alaouite dynasty depends upon, among other
things, a strong military, the leadership of which, however,
must remain sufficiently docile so as not to arouse
suspicions of disloyalty. The only civilian structure
responsible for the FAR is not a Defense Ministry but rather
an entity under the Prime Minister responsible for the
Administration of the National Defense. It is headed by
Minister-delegate Abderrahmane Sbai, whose role is
essentially restricted to that of comptroller. As far as we
can tell, political-military policy on issues such as
peacekeeping appears centered in the Foreign Ministry. All
other major defense matters are decided in the Palace.

3. (C) Over the past decade, Morocco has transitioned from a
conscript to an all-volunteer military force of approximately
218,000 soldiers. Of the three services, the Army is
dominant with approximately 175,000 personnel. There are
approximately 13,000 personnel in the Air Force and 7,800 in
the Navy. Though nominally subordinate within the military
structure but answering directly to the King, the
Gendarmerie, which consists of approximately 22,000
personnel, conducts paramilitary, royal guard, and internal
and border policing missions. Though a few legacy conscripts
remain in the military, professional reforms have made
voluntary military service an attractive career option for
Moroccans with opportunities for a steady income and some
upward mobility. The average military salary for enlisted
soldiers is approximately 2,000 dirhams (USD 270) per month.
An officer's starting salary is approximately 6,000 dirhams
(USD 850) per month. With benefits, such as free housing,
these are reasonably competitive in the Moroccan context.

4. (C) The top military commanders include Military
Inspector General and Army Commander, Lieutenant General (Lt
Gen) Abdelaziz Benanni; Operations Chief Lt Gen Boughaid
Arroub; and Gendarmerie Commander Lt Gen Housni Benslimane.
Benanni, who has become mired in suspicion of corruption,
will reportedly be retired soon. Arroub, who came out of
recent retirement, is tipped by some to succeed Benanni.
Arroub, historically pro-French, appears to have become
increasingly pro-U.S. in the last 5 years. Another rising
star in the FAR is General Mohamed Larbi Tamdi, who is
responsible for army logistics and force sustainment. There
is some military staff in the Palace, likely influent, about
which little is known.

5. (C) King Hassan II and his son, King Mohammed VI, have
maintained the Gendarmerie as a force relatively independent
from the FAR since 1972, in part as a check against a
military coup. While it most visibly serves as a State
Police/Highway Patrol, it has a wide range of units. Its
commander, Lt Gen Benslimane, likely reports in some way
directly to the King. He also leads the Moroccan National
Soccer League, making him a popular figure inside and out of
military circles. While there is no direct proof of
Benslimane being involved in corrupt activity, low ranking
Gendarmerie assigned to highway patrols are expected to pay
approximately 4,000 dirhams (USD 540) to their immediate
supervisors with extralegal earnings from motorists above
which they can keep for themselves, according to one credible

--------------------------------------------- --
Military Operations Dominated by Western Sahara
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (C) The FAR is composed of over 200,000 soldiers and
outclasses most militaries in Africa but has significant room
for improvement. Along with concerns regarding aging
equipment and an overtaxed force, the FAR is plagued by
institutional corruption, leadership that will not step
aside, and low morale among mid-level officers. The FAR is
preoccupied with operations in the Western Sahara region with
between 50 and 70 percent of its total strength deployed
there at any one time. The force in Western Sahara -- a
landmass roughly two thirds the size of California -- is
considered to be stretched thin with a reported estimated
operational readiness rate of just 40 percent. Morocco does
not consider the POLISARIO -- the ethnically Sahrawi
resistance based in Tindouf, Algeria, seeking to make the
Western Sahara an independent state -- to be a conventional
military threat. However, the FAR remains vigilant in
guarding against a renewed POLISARIO insurgency effort.
Morocco built a berm or sand wall along the eastern and
southern borders of the Sahara in the 1980s, which
effectively eliminated the POLISARIO's ability to launch hit
and run raids, leading to the 1981 cease-fire, which has been
fully respected. The POLISARIO continues to maintain a
small, lightly armed presence at a few desert crossroads in
the small remaining part of Western Sahara outside the berm.
Despite occasional expressions of concern, the GOM almost
certainly is fully conscious that the POLISARIO poses no
current threat that could not be effectively countered. The
POLISARIO has generally refrained from classic terrorist
bombings, etc. Although the specter is sometimes raised,
there is no indication of any Salafist/Al Qaeda activity
among the indigenous Sahrawi population.

7. (C) While the border between Morocco and Algeria is
closed, and relations remain cool, we do not believe that
Algeria poses an imminent conventional military threat to
Morocco. Nonetheless, the FAR has contingency plans and
"wargames" in training exercises for a possible Algerian
attack, but the FAR does not have troops deployed along the
border. Instead, the FAR remains stationed in garrisons,
hundreds of kilometers away from the border, from which they
could deploy in the unlikely event of an Algerian incursion
into Morocco. Any confrontation between the two countries
would likely take place through the proxy of the POLISARIO,
which Algeria has supported materially in the past and could
do so again if hostilities between Morocco and the POLISARIO


8. (C) Motivated to win over other countries to its claims
to Western Sahara, Morocco is active in United Nations (UN),
engages in peacekeeping activities, and occasionally sends
troops to assist friendly countries. Morocco is an
experienced contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts, deploying
to countries like Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Haiti and
Somalia. It currently has over 1,500 peacekeepers deployed
to Cote d,Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(DRC). Morocco also supports a military hospital in Kosovo
under NATO command. Morocco has sent medical personnel to
Niger to assist with famine relief and recently re-deployed
military forces to Senegal for an annual five-month &cloud
seeding8 operation for drought relief. Peacekeeping
contributions in recent years have been tarnished by
allegations of sexual wrongdoing in the DRC and Cote

--------------------------------------------- ---
Corruption Remains the Single Greatest Challenge
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (C) Corruption is prevalent at all levels of Moroccan
society and the military is also plagued by it, particularly
at the highest levels. This may partly reflect a grand
bargain struck by King Hassan II following at least two
nearly successful coups in the 1970's: remain loyal, and you
can profit. (Those whose loyalty was in question were
subject to sometimes decades of harsh imprisonment.)
Credible reports indicate that Lt Gen Benanni is using his
position as the Commander of the Southern Sector to skim
money from military contracts and influence business
decisions. A widely believed rumor has it that he owns large
parts of the fisheries in Western Sahara. Benanni, like many
senior military officers, has a lavish family home that was
likely built with money gleaned from bribes. Leadership
positions in regional sectors are a significant source of
extralegal income for military leaders. There are even
reports of students at Morocco's military academy paying
money to increase their class standings in order to obtain
positions in lucrative military postings. Command in the
southern sector, i.e., Western Sahara, given the predominance
of military activity there, is considered to be the most
lucrative of the sectors in this regard. Because command in
the southern sector is also considered critical to high level
advancement in the FAR, positions there are highly sought
after. Consequently, positions in this sector are often
jealously "guarded" by a number of influential families in
the military. The GOM seems to be looking for ways to stop
corruption, especially among the formative military ranks of
Colonel and below, but not much is being done to stop the
corruption in the general officer ranks.

Retiring High Level Officers Also a Problem

10. (C) Senior officers refusing to retire to allow younger
officers to move up the ranks has become a significant
problem for the FAR. Officers nearing the mandatory
retirement age do not want to retire since this would mean
relinquishing bribes, money-skimming, and some related
sources of income. Even for those officers not &on the
take,8 giving up government positions and paychecks is
economically difficult for a sustained retirement. This
"gerontocracy" problem, coupled with the King's notorious
micro-management of the military has had a negative impact on
the morale of mid-level military leaders.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Radicalization: Under Control But Lingering Menace
--------------------------------------------- ------

11. (C) Though now viewed as a minor problem, reporting
suggests that small numbers of FAR soldiers remains
susceptible to Islamic radicalization. The GOM first
encountered this problem following the 2003 Casablanca
bombings when investigators identified military members as
co-conspirators. Following the bombings, the FAR undertook
steps to identify extremists and implement preventative
measures, such as closing prayer halls on military bases, to
address the problem. Subsequently, Morocco,s internal
security services have identified and apprehended several
military and gendarmerie personnel in other terrorist cells,
some of whom had stolen weapons from their bases for
terrorism. Acknowledging this threat in a speech to the
armed forces in May 2008, the King stated his desire to
"immunize" the armed forces from the threat of radicalization
and to promote the values of tolerance and moderation in the
ranks. During this same time frame the military forced 30
officers to retire early, allegedly because they were deemed
potentially radical and hostile to the Government.
Subsequently, the FAR removed all mosques from army bases and
deployed military counterintelligence, i.e., 5th Bureau,
undercover officers to monitor local "off-post" mosques for
potentially radical activities. These officers refer cases
to the Gendarmerie if criminal charges can be pursued.

Winds of Change

12. (C) Since the 1970's the military itself has been
perceived as the greatest threat to the throne and internal
security in Morocco, not surprising given Morocco's own
history and the broader context of the coup-ridden Middle
East and Africa. Of late, however, there is a general

perception that the relationship between the Palace and the
FAR is beginning to change to one of greater trust. The
King's growing confidence is partly signaled by a recent
significant increase in military spending, particularly for
modern hardware, although this is primarily a function of the
GOM's perceived threat from Algeria and the fact that it is
cost prohibitive at a certain point to maintain older
military equipment. The GOM increased the military's
operating budget to more than USD 2 billion in 2007,
significantly more than in previous years. Likewise, the FAR
is undergoing a significant modernization process, paying
over USD 2 billion for 24 F-16 aircraft and over USD 300
million for T-6 training aircraft from the U.S. The GOM has
commercially financed these transactions, thus far, but the
upfront payments have come from the treasury, which has also
committed to cover monthly payments. The King recently
allowed armed military flights north of Ben Guerir (located
approximately 200 kilometers south of Rabat), an act not
permitted in the past due to the King,s desire to keep the
military far away from the Palace in Rabat. The GOM is also
looking to make significant purchases of M-1 Abrams battle
tanks in the future.

U.S.-Moroccan Military Relations
Strong but Could Be Better

13. (C) In general, the U.S. and Morocco share a robust
military relationship with prospects for even closer ties in
the future. The health of the relationship is evidenced by
increased U.S.-Moroccan military training exercises and the
aforementioned military sales. Morocco has also increased
its activities under a partnership arrangement with the Utah
National Guard, which regularly deploys to Morocco to conduct
joint training and humanitarian relief operations. We have
submitted draft proposed language for the Moroccans to
consider for an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement
(ACSA) and a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and have
received comments on the ACSA draft from the GOM. In the
future, the Embassy hopes to see improvements in the FAR's
information sharing and accessibility to military units and
facilities with our Defense Attache Office. Although the FAR
regularly dialogues with our attaches, quality information is
lacking. The FAR also does not recognize the Embassy Attache
circle, an organization of Military Attaches from various
countries residing in Morocco who elect a president to
discuss issues of collective concern with the FAR. It is
apparent that the Palace continues to tightly control the
FAR's interactions U.S. and other foreign governments.

AFRICOM Viewed with Caution

14. (C) Previous interactions with GOM officials indicate
that military leaders are opposed to AFRICOM basing a
headquarters element in Morocco. However, Morocco has
offered to send a military liaison officer to the AFRICOM
headquarters in Germany and has offered to assist U.S.-led
efforts engaging with African countries. Morocco has also
approached AFRICOM representatives to solicit AFRICOM support
in providing chemicals needed for their cloud-seeding
operations in Senegal and providing logistics to assist with
a proposed locust control program.


15. (C) The Mission is optimistic that the U.S.-Moroccan
military relationship will continue to improve, but there are
potential speed bumps in future. We anticipate that
cooperative joint training exercises will continue to occur
at a robust pace, although the vast majority of this activity
will likely take place in Morocco because of continued
restrictions on the travel of FAR personnel. While we
anticipate that the Palace will continue to modernize the
military, with the notable possible acquisition of M-1 Abrams
tanks, we are increasingly concerned that Morocco, not used
to the high operating costs of these high end items (and
other budgetary pressures) may make it increasingly difficult
for the Moroccans to make payments on purchases. If payments
become a problem for the GOM, this could sour relations
temporarily. While we believe that there are some signs of
the King's increased confidence in the FAR, we believe that
the monarchy still calculates that the military represents
the biggest potential threat to the crown. FAR officers
will, therefore, continue to be distanced from policy making

input and restricted from engaging in detailed discussions
about Moroccan military strength and intentions with foreign
military officers, including our attaches.

Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;


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