Wide Angle

The Rif War : The battle of Annual, a glorious victory 

Fought on the 21st of July 1921, the Annual battle landed a glorious victory to the Berber combatants of the Rif. Suffering from the defeat, the Spanish called the battle «the Disaster of Annual». 

The Annual Battle./Ph. Warefare history blog
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In 1921, nine years after the beginning of the protectorate, the Spanish were still unable to take control of Morocco’s northernmost region. On July the 21st of the same year, Berber combatants led by Abdelkrim El Khattabi defeated the Spanish army. 

After 18 days of siege, Spanish forces under the command of General Manuel Fernandez Silvestre were attacked and destroyed and almost 20,000 were killed. Their leader went missing and rumors suggested that he committed suicide as his body could not be found later. 

The Guerrilla 

The Spanish army suffered a major defeat which was referred to as the «disaster of Annual», making it to the most read history books. But above all, the battle was a lesson of guerrilla warfare in Africa and Asia. The Spaniards suffered heavy losses following the fight, indeed German historian Werner Brockdorff indicated that «only 1,200 of the 20,000 Spanish troops escaped alive». 

Troops of El Khattabi managed to win the battle while relying on limited resources. In a book entitled «Abdelkrim El Khattabi : A Nationalist Leader», Azzedine El Khattabi indicates that «20 thousand rifles, 400 machine guns, 129 guns, a million cartridges and a large number of trucks and cars» were seized by the Riffians. 

When the French interfered

The Annual victory had a considerable impact on the international scene. Media was attracted to the the Rif War and all eyes were focused on the region for a while.  

The French government back in the time had confronted the Riffians, initiated peace talks with Abdelkarim El Khattabi against Marshall Petain, who was adamantly in favor of a military intervention. The endeavor resulted in the emergence of the Oujda talks in April 9th, 1925 but to no avail as, while it received little attention from the public, the war resumed three weeks later on the 6th of May 1925.

Following a brief truce, El Khattabi fulfilled his plans by ordering the Riffian troops to attack the areas controlled by the French and he subsequently emerged victorious as he defeated the enemy armies. 

A crime against humanity left unpunished

Almost a century after the battle of Annual, the massive use of chemical gases by the Spanish army is still engraved in the memories of the Riffians. Large quantities of the lethal product were generously supplied by France and Germany to kill the Rif population. Local NGOs claimed that the inhabitants of the northern region present some of the highest rates of cancer in the country, which may be due to the use of the prohibited weapons. 

On the 16th of July 2012, Saadeddine El Othmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, announced that Rabat intended to invite Madrid to hold talks on the use of chemical gases by the Spanish army during the Rif War (1921-1926). The Minister was convinced that Spain «would not contradict such an initiative» which, according to him, was «within the framework of the strategic agreement between the two countries». Since then however, the story has fallen into oblivion.

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