The Rif region is located in the north of Morocco. This territory was a protectorate of Spain from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1950s. The inhabitants of this region, the Rifeños of Berber origin, rebelled against foreign rule and for 20 years there was the so-called Rif War, also known with other denominations: the Second Moroccan War or the African War.
The origin of this conflict began in 1904, when Spain decided to occupy the Rif region to regain national prestige after the failure of the loss of the colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898.
As in most armed conflicts, in this one there were also economic interests, since in the north of Morocco there were mines of iron and other metals. The Count of Romanones, one of the greatest fortunes in Spain, was the one who had the concession of the mines. The Riffany cabils did not accept the economic control of their region and in 1908 the first acts of rebellion began.
The phases of military conflict
In a first phase, the Spanish troops settled in the territory of the Rif. In 1909, the Spanish army suffered a hard and bitter defeat, known as the “Disaster of Barranco do Lobo”, a place very close to the city of Melilla.
In a second phase, the Spaniards tried to create and maintain checkpoints, called blocausses (small fortifications designed to be quickly dismantled). These strategic areas were periodically assaulted by the rifen guerrillas, led by Abd el-Krim.
In 1921, a new phase of open war began, which had as its main consequence the so-called “Annual Disaster”. In this battle, the rifenhos caused a new defeat to the Spanish army. After this episode, a deep political crisis was unleashed in Spain, causing a new dictatorial phase led by Miguel Primo de Rivera.
The Rif War was not a conventional military confrontation between two armies of similar characteristics. While the Spanish troops were made up of poorly equipped replacement soldiers, the rifenhos organized themselves into guerrilla groups that knew the territory perfectly and this allowed them to destabilize enemy lines with surprise attacks.
Officially the Rif War ended in 1927 and the Spanish protectorate ended in 1956.
In 1924, the Spanish and French armies allied and in 1925 the “Landing of Alhucemas” took place. Colonel Francisco Franco actively participated in this operation and a decade later led the military insurrection against the Second Republic.
The landing established the definitive maneuver that brought about the end of the Rif War and the consequent Spanish control over this territory.
The final balance of the war was paradoxical, as Spain managed to impose itself militarily, but at a very high price (it is estimated that more than 26,000 soldiers lost their lives).
In 1956, the various territories that formed the Rif region were integrated into the Kingdom of Morocco.