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At a French Foreign Legion outpost in the Algerian Sahara desert, a Berber spy is apprehended and taken to the brutal camp commander, Capt. Marcheck, a former officer in the German army. Unknown to the Legionnaires, Marcheck and his native clerk Karaba are in league with the local Berber chieftain, Garabi, to undermine the Legion's tenuous control of the area. That night, Karaba secretly sets the spy free, instructing him to tell Garabi to attack the next day's Legion convoy on its way to Sidi-bel-Abbes. Lt. Smith, a former American serviceman, is stunned to learn later from fellow officer Bartok that the camp's meager forces are to be split, with Bartok taking most of the troops to far off Fort Rondet. The next morning, Marcheck blames Smith for the prisoner's escape and orders him to take the convoy on a full-pack march across the desert. Midway into the march, Garabi's forces ambush the Legionnaires, who radio headquarters at Sidi-bel-Abbes for help. Col. Lesperance, the commanding officer at Sidi-bel-Abbes, informs Smith that he has too few troops to spare and therefore Smith and his men must struggle alone against their attackers. American correspondent Tom Brodie arrives at headquarters and Lesperance explains that the regional conflicts have increased due to the influx of firearms illegally sold to the Berbers. After beating back the Berbers, Smith and his men arrive safely at headquarters. The following morning, Smith meets with Lesperance and the men conclude that the recent wave of attacks suggest that an outside force may be attempting to organize the fractious Berber forces. Lesperance reveals that Marcheck has submitted a scathing report about Smith, but offers to ignore the report because of Smith's success against the ambush. Later, Lesperance is visited by Marcheck's French wife, Dalbert, who requests an escort to visit her husband. That evening, Smith and his men relax at a popular club where Brodie introduces himself to Smith. When the Berber spy freed by Karaba is killed at the club by Garabi and his henchman, Smith follows the assassins into the street, but is grazed by a gunshot. Smith escapes through a nearby open window that leads to Dalbert's hotel room. Without telling Smith her name, Dalbert tends to his wound and when the two are attracted to each other, Smith stays the night. In the morning at headquarters, Smith is stunned when Lesperance introduces Dalbert as Marcheck's wife and asks him to escort her and Brodie to the outpost. At the outpost, Karaba reminds Marcheck of the next supply of rifles arriving soon and the captain then arranges a meeting with Garabi to discuss the next phase of their plans. Marcheck is surprised to find Dalbert with Smith's convoy, and also is displeased by Brodie's presence. Later, when Dalbert asks her husband for a divorce, he refuses. Brodie, a longtime war correspondent, tells Smith he recognizes him as an American officer who led his men bravely at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Smith bitterly recalls that he was forced to order several close friends to their death, but Brodie reminds him that his actions were not in vain and admonishes Smith for taking refuge from his grief in the Foreign Legion. With news that the rifles have arrived, Marcheck meets with Garabi to arrange a final, all-out assault against the Legion. Suspicious that Marcheck is merely using the Berbers to further his personal ambitions, Garabi and Karaba secretly plan to do away with the captain after the battle. A little later, Brodie photographs Karaba and tries to question him about his affiliation with the French. Marcheck rouses Brodie's suspicions further when he confronts the journalist and demands that he surrender his camera and film. To tire the troops, Marcheck orders Smith to take them on ceaseless patrols around the outpost and after several days of grueling marches, Smith protests. When Bartok radios that Fort Rondet is under attack, Smith demands to go to his aid, but Marcheck refuses and the fort is overrun. Dalbert later visits Smith to apologize for not revealing her identity to him earlier and to declare her love. After Marcheck finds the couple together, Dalbert pleads with him to spare Smith in exchange for her promise to remain with Marcheck. Later, unaware that Karaba is eavesdropping, Brodie informs Smith that Karaba is an associate of Garabi. Karaba then overpowers Smith and takes him to Marcheck, who beats and threatens him. Smith attempts to turn Karaba against Marcheck, then tries to escape. Marcheck prevents Smith from fleeing and, as the men fight, Karaba knifes Marcheck in the back. Smith then orders Brodie and Dalbert to return to Sidi-bel-Abbes while he rounds up his exhausted men for an attack on the Berber-held arsenal. During the ensuing fierce battle, both Karaba and Garabi are killed. Upon finally defeating the Berber forces, Smith radios Lesperance to send a message to Dalbert asking her to wait for him.