Moroccans open corridor to desert outpost, beat back Polisario Fronters
In a significant new military action, the Moroccan Army has cleared a wide corridor to the isolated garrison of Zag, 50 miles from the Algerian border. After 2 1/2 days of fighting with Polisario Front guerrillas, convoys of supplies now are able to reach the Moroccan outpost that is closest to Polisario bases near Tindouf, Algeria.
This reporter flew with nine foreign journalists in a Moroccan Army Chinook helicopter from the new airstrip at Goulimine to Assa and on to the Ngueb Pass in the Ouarkziz Mountains, the region of a battle which began May 6.
From Assa to the Ouarkziz, the ravines, grottoes, and overhanging ledges that have provided cover for Polisario entrenchment well within Moroccan borders were evident from the air.
From Ngueb Pass, the group flew in smaller Puma helicopters at altitudes as low as 20 feet over the recent battle sites and along the route connecting Zag with Goulimine and the interior of Morocco.
Trucks carrying supplies were clearly visible as they moved unhampered along the track. And through the undulating desert, Moroccan troops in green uniforms and turbans waved and cheered from armed personnel carriers perched on ridges.
They were eager to show the world that the garrison of Zag has not been cut off as has been claimed by the Polisario Front. The charred remains of Polisario Landrover vehicles and scorched shell holes in the desert testified to the recent fighting.
At Zag, the small Pumas circled the town, sweeping close to the edge of the high mesa where the Polisario guerrillas are said to have been entrenched. Life in the town of Zag appeared normal and signs of shell impact were not visible, although sporadic explosions heard in the distance proved that fighting still was going on.
At Ngueb Pass, 27 miles north of Zag, Col.-Maj. Mumammad Abrouk told of the recent battle. The Moroccans have cleared a path 33 miles wide on the fringes of which combat continues around remaining pockets of guerrillas.
As of May 8, Colonel-Major Abrouk gave Moroccan losses as 26 dead and 40 wounded. He claimed that over 230 Polisario guerrillas had been killed and that Moroccan Mirage fighter planes pulverized or damaged 40 of their Landrovers.
The Moroccans said they captured 20 usable Landrovers, three Soviet-made Stalin organs (launching ramps for rockets), and stacks of arms, including Soviet-type Kalashnikov machine guns and 122 mm. missiles.
A Sahraoui, who fled the Polisario after 3 1/2 years with the guerrillas, was interviewed by the reporters. He stated that his 300-man unit included mercenaries from Mali, Chad, Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco, and only 10 percent from the Western Sahara.
With the route to Zag open, Morocco is in a strong position to face up to Algeria, as well as in dealing with the Polisario Front. Two regiment-sized Moroccan columns are on the ready, spread through the desert on the other side of the border from Tindouf.