Armed Forces Overview: Morocco’s military consists of 196,300 active-duty personnel and 150,000 reserves. The active-duty troops are assigned to the various services: army, 175,000; navy, 7,800; and air force, 13,500. In addition, Morocco has 50,000 active-duty paramilitary personnel.
Foreign Military Relations: In June 2004,the United States designated Morocco a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally in recognition of Morocco’s efforts to combat international terrorism. As a result of the designation, the U.S. military gained access to Moroccan military ports and bases in exchange for U.S. financial assistance to the Moroccan military. Such assistance under the U.S. Financial Military Financing program totaled US$10 million in fiscal year 2004 and was expected to reach US$15.1 million in fiscal year 2005.
External Threat: Morocco faces an external threat from the Polisario Front (PF), which opposes Morocco’s administration of Western Sahara. The PF, whose membership is estimated at 3,000–6,000, enjoys the support of neighboring Algeria.
Defense Budget: In 2003 Morocco’s defense budget was US$2.3 billion, about 5 percent of gross domestic product.
Major Military Units: The Moroccan army has two commands: one responsible for the northern zone, or Morocco proper, and the other for the southern zone, or Western Sahara. These commands control three mechanized infantry brigades, one light security brigade, two paratroop brigades, and eight mechanized or motorized infantry regiments. Independent units include one armored battalion, two cavalry battalions, 39 infantry battalions, one mountain infantry battalion, two paratroop battalions, three motorized (camel corps) battalions, nine artillery battalions, seven engineering battalions, one air defense group, and seven commando units. The 1,500-member Royal Guard has one battalion and one cavalry squadron. The navy, including a marine force, is deployed from five bases at Casablanca, Agadir, Al Hoceima, Dakhla, and Tangier. The air force has operational bases in Rabat-Salé, Meknès, Kenitra, and Sidi Slimane and a training base in Marrakech.
Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 744 main battle tanks, 100 light tanks, 324 reconnaissance vehicles, 115 armored infantry fighter vehicles, 740 armored personnel carriers, 185 towed artillery, 227 self-propelled artillery, 40 multiple rocket launchers, 1,470 mortars, 720 antitank guided weapons, an unspecified number of rocket launchers, 350 recoilless launchers, 36 antitank guns, 477 air defense guns, 107 surface-to-air missiles, and unspecified numbers of surveillance and unmanned aerial vehicles. The navy inventory includes two frigates, four missile craft, 23 patrol craft, four amphibious vehicles, and four support craft. Naval aviation has two helicopters. The Moroccan air force has 95 combat aircraft and 24 armed helicopters.
Military Service: Most enlisted personnel serve voluntarily, although conscription is authorized for up to 18 months beginning at age 18. Army reserves are required to serve until age 50.
Paramilitary Forces: Morocco’s 50,000 paramilitary personnel serve in the Royal Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Royale—GR), Auxiliary Forces, Customs, and Coast Guard.
Foreign Military Forces: Since 1991 a small United Nations (UN) mission, called the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), has monitored a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Liberation Front in Western Sahara but has failed to hold a referendum on self-determination. Currently, 27 troops and 203 military observers staff MINURSO.
Military Forces Abroad: Morocco currently participates in United Nations peacekeeping missions in the following locations: Bosnia (about 800 personnel), Democratic Republic of Congo (805), Ivory Coast (734), and Serbia/Montenegro (279).
Police: The General Office of National Security (Direction Générale de la SûretéNationale—DGSN) is a national civilian police force divided into 37 local districts, subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. The Royal Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Royale—GR), a paramilitary force that is formally part of the armed forces, augments the DGSN, serving as the country’s main rural police unit while the DGSN concentrates primarily on urban areas. The DGSN, Royal Gendarmerie, and other Moroccan security organizations face allegations of human rights abuses.
Internal Threat: The Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain—GICM), which is affiliated with al Qaeda, poses a threat to domestic security, according to the U.S. Department of State. The GICM was implicated in the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004. Islamist militants responsible for a terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003 belonged to another group called Salafiya Jihadiya. Following the incident, Morocco arrested several thousand Islamist militants and sentenced nearly 1,000 for terrorism-related activities. The government also took a variety of measures to tighten security and crack down on potential terrorists.
Terrorism: On May 16, 2003, a cell of Islamist terrorists belonging to a group calling itself Salafiya Jihadiya bombed a series of Jewish targets in Casablanca; 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers, died in the incidents. Indicating that terrorism is a continuing threat, in June 2002 the press reported that Morocco had foiled an al Qaeda conspiracy to attack British and U.S. Navy vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar with explosives-laden dinghies. Morocco arrested three Saudi Arabian nationals in connection with the planned terrorist strike, which appears to have been modeled after al Qaeda’s raid on a U.S. Navy ship off Yemen in 2000. Following the Casablanca bombings in 2003, Morocco began to crack down on Islamist militants, including both Salafiya Jihadiya and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain—GICM). In late 2005, Morocco dismantled several al Qaeda-affiliated cells that had been plotting attacks in the country. Altogether, Morocco has arrested 3,000 suspects, about 1,000 of whom were jailed on terrorism charges, since the Casablanca bombings. The United States has recognized Morocco’s support for the war on terrorism by designating Morocco as a non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.
Human Rights: Morocco’s human rights record is mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, Morocco’s most recent elections—for the lower chamber of parliament in September 2002 and for local government councils in September 2003—were widely regarded as free and fair. Freedom of the press is considerable, although many journalists practice self-censorship and discussion of the monarchy is not permitted. Freedom of religion is generally observed, with some limitations. Although Islam is the official state religion, Moroccans are permitted to practice other faiths. However, restrictions apply to Christian proselytizing and political activities under the rubric of Islam. On the negative side, in view of the dominant role of the king in politics, Moroccans lack the ability to change their government. Following the Islamist terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003, human rights groups alleged that Morocco mistreated and even tortured detainees. Other human rights issues include violence and discrimination against women, child labor, and human trafficking. In 2005 the Moroccan parliament took steps to improve the status of women and children.