Boko Haram brings the war to Chad

Last Monday the conflict spillover from Nigeria escalated significantly when four suicide attackers set bombs off in N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad, killing at least 20 and wounding more than 100. Chad has a been a major participant — arguably the backbone — of the regional counterinsurgency against Boko Haram.

N’Djamena is, in fact, quite close to the existing warzone in northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, but Chad’s newly large and aggressive military has previously deterred direct terrorist attacks on major targets in-country, even when it stirred hornets’ nests by getting involved beyond its borders in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. For example, attacking Chad directly on its home turf was something not even the northern Mali insurgents attempted to do after Chad’s high-profile participation in the 2013 international military intervention in Mali, but Boko Haram doesn’t seem to have the same limits.

In the end, on the other hand, insurgents and terrorists in Mali were able to harass and attack Chadian forces enough times inside Mali itself to force their withdrawal of ground troops. So it remains to be seen whether attacking the capital, rather than Chadian forces in Nigeria, will be more effective or less. It will raise some questions about Chad’s military efficacy, I suspect, if it cannot defend the capital. If Chad continues to develop a reputation as a paper tiger — talking big in Mali and Central African Republic (or now Nigeria), but later abandoning the situation when the heat turns up — it may lose some of its U.S. and European support. That might not be the worst outcome.

Chad’s military responded to the bombing later in the week with airstrikes in Nigeria at six locations, which the Nigerian government (even under new management) insisted didn’t happen, or didn’t happen inside Nigeria’s borders. This would not be the first unilateral military action by Chad inside Nigeria against Boko Haram.


Beware the aid of Chad

Al Jazeera America, “US support for Chad may destabilize the Sahel”:

Washington’s support for Déby assumes U.S. interests in the region align with Chad’s. U.S. policymakers should realize, however, that Chad has demonstrated a vested interest in promoting instability and empowering regional militias. Far from a bulwark of stability, Chad has proved a purveyor of chaos.
Chad’s domestic policies are no less problematic. The country is one of the world’s least free, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World index. Under Déby’s rule, Chad’s already dismal record for political and civil rights has continued to decline.

Related background: Chad: How China Created an African Power – The Globalist: How Chinese investment made Chad a vital Central African military ally of the West.

The previous regime in Chad, ejected in the 1990 coup, was also a close U.S. military ally, with success against Libya but horrible results domestically.

Chad’s regional interference in the past 15 years has included repeatedly supporting rebel groups in Sudan, Central African Republic, and elsewhere, in addition to its provision of support and troops for French and US military operations in Mali and Nigeria. Its Central African Republic intervention, which included overthrowing the government and then sending troops to “keep the peace” in the ensuing chaos, ended in disaster, as I previously recounted on this site:

[…] neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

The intervention in Nigeria seems to be the one most closely motivated by economic fears (BBC):

Chad has been impatient to act in order to protect its supply routes, crucial to its economy. Goods come through Cameroon’s Far North while it exports oil through a pipeline running through Nigeria’s Adamawa state.

(That state is just south of current Boko Haram territory.)
Wall Street Journal:

Rampaging through northeastern Nigeria and attacking neighboring Cameroon in January, Islamist militants squeezed paths used by herdsmen who walk one of Chad’s main exports—cattle—to market in Nigeria. Boko Haram also choked off the flow of manufactured goods into Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. Prices for everyday imports like plastic tubs have skyrocketed.

Nigeria has done very poorly against Boko Haram, but Chad’s deepening involvement (some of it undertaken without the permission of Nigeria’s government) should be at least as troubling to as welcomed by the international community, if not more so.


Senegal, AU launch “universal jurisdiction” prosecution of ex-Chad dictator

Chad’s brutal ex-dictator Hissène Habré will stand trial for war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity in a landmark trial in Senegal. This is huge news if it goes forward because the Senegal trial — undertaken with African Union backing — and will be the African continent’s first-ever use of “universal jurisdiction.”

Universal jurisdiction is a controversial doctrine that allows countries to prosecute people they arrest for significant crimes of mass violence and human rights abuses committed in other places, even without direct interests of or crimes against the prosecuting country. It has been used most heavily by Spain (full story➚).

Habré, who ruled from 1982 until the 1990 coup that brought incumbent President Idriss Déby to power, has been in Senegal since his fall from power. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 and then formally taken to jail in 2013 ahead of the now-upcoming trial. He has been sought by various jurisdictions, including Chad, for his 1980s crimes — which include hundreds if not tens of thousands of political killings and tens or hundreds of thousands of torture victims — but until now he has avoided prosecution.

Universal jurisdiction efforts against him began as far back as 2000. Senegal was initially unsure whether it could apply universal jurisdiction in its domestic courts, but the country is a firm supporter of international justice as a general principle, having been the first country to ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Throughout Habré’s rule he received paramilitary assistance from the United States (via the CIA) as part of Chad’s on-again-off-again war with Libya’s Qaddafi regime. Besides his crimes again humanity, Habré was most notable on the international stage, especially in retrospect, for his pioneering use of Toyota pickup trucks with improvised gun-mounts for highly-mobile desert combat, a tactic he used against the Libyan Army’s tanks to surprisingly strong effect. This tactic’s late 1980s use in the war with Libya may well have influenced the use of pickup trucks with improvised gun mounts in Libya’s 2011 Revolution against Qaddafi, which may have then spread via Libyan fighters to ISIS (and other insurgent groups) in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

There was extensive (albeit secret) U.S. panic when Habré fell from power that CIA-delivered heavy weapons, including the same type of anti-air equipment as what they were delivering to Afghanistan at the same time, might fall into the hands of Qaddafi, who at that point had already brought down the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie.

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Chad military strikes Boko Haram in Nigeria

Eyewitnesses say Chadian ground forces supported by three fighter jets struck the northeastern Nigerian border town of Malumfatori (or Malam Fatori), compelling occupying Boko Haram fighters to flee. It was unknown if Nigeria backed the action, although a formal African Union multinational force is expected to arrive in Nigeria soon. Neither the Nigerian nor the Chadian armed forces commented on the Malam Fatori raid.

Related background: Chad: How China Created an African Power – The Globalist: How Chinese investment made Chad a vital Central African military ally of the West.

France announces indefinite Sahel deployment

France’s defense minister has just announced plans to create a semi-permanent force of 4,000 troops across the entire Sahel and Sahara in former French West Africa, as it redeploys most of its troops in Mali.

“There will be 1,000 soldiers that remain in Mali, and 3,000 in the Sahel-Sahara zone, the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling,” Mr Le Drian said, in a television interview.

“We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date,” he added.

French forces will be based in four regional centres – Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso – Reuters news agency reports.

Smaller bases from which to launch strikes are being set up, with Ivory Coast as the mission’s logistical hub, it adds.

I find this development fairly troubling. France should too. Open-ended commitments are rarely a good idea.

However, it’s also not surprising, given the increasing re-involvement of France in the security affairs of its former African colonies in the past decade. A small, permanent force in several locations in or near the Sahel/Sahara is probably the only way (from a feasibility standpoint) that France can both avoid permanent and ineffective occupations (at much higher cost in lives and money) and respond quickly to rising threats, kidnappings, etc., which it feels it must do for its own security.

All the same, this open-ended, rapid-reaction wack-a-mole approach to counterterrorism — where they keep thousands of troops all over West Africa (and Central African Republic nearby) before periodically bursting into neighboring countries for a minute, guns blazing, like Operation Neptune Spear — makes France seem more than a bit neo-colonial.

French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)It also seems like an easy step down the path toward becoming completely mired in an unwinnable, transnational counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel — something others have warned against previously often.

As ever, the Sahel needs more of a Marshall Plan development aid strategy than troop deployments.

Mali update: African regional troops arriving; France playing wack-a-mole

U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jason SmithThe BBC Africa service reports that the first 200 Nigerian troops of the UN intervention force are on their way to Mali. Nigeria plans to deploy 700 more along with fighter jets in the coming weeks. They will be leading the African forces in the UN mission. French military ally and regional neighbor Chad has committed 2,000 troops. Benin, neighboring Ghana, neighboring Niger, neighboring Senegal, neighboring Burkina Faso, and Togo also plan to participate in the police action, with probably about 400 more troops between them.

The UN-created coalition (read: PDF of UNSC Resolution 2085 from December 2012) has been named the “African-led International Support Mission in Mali” (AFISMA) and is tasked with re-capturing northern Mali from Tuareg separatist groups, training the Malian Army who apparently didn’t take direction well from the US trainers, supporting the interim democratic government to prevent another military coup, and organizing the safety of humanitarian missions.

The deployment has been accelerated by quite a few months due to the sudden progression of separatist troops beyond the unofficial dividing line in the conflict which prompted the start of a major French military campaign last Friday in response. France and the other Western powers believe that many of the separatist organizations in the impoverished, sparsely populated semi-desert region of northern Mali have links to terrorism including Al Qaeda affiliates.

One of the major groups claiming to represent the political and military aspects of the Tuareg ethnic separatist movement is an explicitly Islamist political group called Ansar Dine, which purports to impose some form of Sharia law across northern Mali and possibly the whole of Mali. Their main rival group is the longtime leading organization of the separatists known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA being the French abbreviation), which is secular and pro-independence and probably wasn’t really tied to terrorism. However, the MNLA lost territorial control of northern Mali in June 2012 to the Ansar Dine in a series of internecine skirmishes while the Malian government was still in some disarray from the spring military coup. (The coup took place in the south during the latest of many northern Tuareg rebellions over the past 99 years.)

Although the Malian government has long accused the MNLA of terrorist links for the cynical purpose of getting “War on Terror” funding from Western governments, it is far more credible to assert real terrorist links between the Ansar Dine and similar Islamist insurgent operations in North and East Africa, including Al Qaeda of the Maghreb (North Africa) or more likely the Shahab in Somalia (who have themselves recently been severely disrupted by intense African Union military campaigns). This rise of Ansar Dine and their serious movements toward expanding into the more populous southern “half” of Mali has understandably caused an uptick in concern and attention from the Western governments, thus prompting the sudden French intervention last week.

Meanwhile, as West African troops arrive, France (which I’m not sure will be part of the AFISMA/UN mission at all) now has 800 troops on the ground in Mali and that number is set to swell to 2,500. 50 armored vehicles have been deployed northward toward the front. The unilateral French air campaign in the north in support of the Malian government in the south continues at full tilt out of air bases in Chad.

The Malian Army is only participating lightly in ground actions coordinated with these airstrikes — hampering efforts to consolidate and hold any gains — and are reportedly fighting in “hand-to-hand combat” with rebels just 220 miles north of the capital, which seems fairly unproductive to me. Although the French operation initially dislodged the separatist forces from the informal border line between north and south this past weekend, these rebel troops suddenly reappeared on Monday much further southwest into government-held territory.

However, the separatist force holding Timbuktu seems to have withdrawn entirely from the ancient city, according to locals. It’s a bit of a game of wack-a-mole right now without much ground cooperation to keep any ground “won” from the bombings.