The town of Tindouf was built near an isolated Saharan oasis in 1852 by members of the Tajakant tribe, but sacked and destroyed by the Reguibat, another Sahrawi tribe in 1895, and the Tajakant tribe were expelled from the region. It remained deserted until French troops arrived in the area in 1934. Since Algerian independence in 1962, the town has been deliberately built up, partly because of its importance as a last outpost before the Moroccan, Sahrawi and Mauritanian borders.
In 1963, the area was the scene of fighting between Algerian and Moroccan forces laying claim to western Algeria, in the Sand War. The region has since been heavily militarized, increasing its relevance. Since the mid-70s, the Tindouf region served as base for the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist organization fighting for Western Sahara's independence. The Polisario Front is headquartered in self-administered refugee camps south of the city, which filled up as Moroccan and Mauritanian forces conquered Western Sahara in 1975. During the war years of 1975–1990, Polisario forces struck in Western Sahara, Mauritania (until 1979) and southern Morocco (including the region of Tata), using the Tindouf region as their rear base area, with Algerian protection and support. Since 1990 the area has been quiet, although the refugee community remains in Algeria, pending a UN-sponsored peace process and a referendum on independence. (See Minurso.)