Veterans of the war in Afghanistan can tell you the country is absolutely riddled with land mines of all kinds. The country has experienced nonstop war and civil strife since the 1979 Soviet Invasion and ever since, land mines have been a constant hazard. But despite being one of the most heavily mined countries on earth, the biggest minefield is far from Afghanistan – it’s in the Sahara Desert.
Sure, there are plenty of war zones where one might expect a minefield, especially in North Africa. The unexploded ordnance from World War II is still a concern for North Africans, as well as the remnants of the French expulsion from Algeria, and the recent Civil War in Libya. But the world’s longest minefield is actually just south of Morocco – and it was placed there by the Moroccans.
Little known outside of Africa is the tiny territory of Western Sahara. It’s not a country, not a recognized one anyway. When Spain left the area in 1975, both Mauritania and Morocco were quick to claim it for themselves. The people who lived in the area, called Saharawis, had other ideas. They wanted their independence along with the rest of Africa, which experienced wave after wave of anti-colonial independence movements in that time frame. Forming a military and political body called the Polisario, they forced Mauritanian troops out but were unable to dislodge neighboring Morocco. Morocco has occupied the area ever since.
But the Moroccan forces weren’t able to subdue the entire country. Instead of allowing a protracted rebellion by allowing the freedom of movement between the occupied territories and the so-called “free zone” run by the Polisario, Morocco constructed a sand berm with a strip of land mines 2,700 kilometers long (that’s 1677-plus miles for non-metric people). That’s some seven million mines along the disputed boundary.
Even after the shooting stopped in 1991, Morocco made no attempt to take out the mines. In fact, it doubled down on its occupation, constructing guard towers, radar posts, and deploying thousands of troops along the berm to keep the Saharawi out of Western Sahara and detect any possible infiltrators. Civilians are constantly being blown up and maimed by the minefield, while almost no other country recognizes the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara.