Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on Chad

News moves quickly. I was listening to World Service eating breakfast at home and they mentioned that the newly formed rebel alliance in Chad, the FUC, was advancing towards the capital N’Djamena. Checking on the net, the NYT and BBC had pieces on the advance but were still saying that the rebels had raided a town called Mongo, about halfway between the eastern border with Sudan and the western capital. Having cycled into work, taken a shower and had my coffee, I looked again to see that news sites around the world are covered with wire reports that fighting has broken out in the capital itself. This is coming from multiple sources including the BBC and Reuters. It seems possible now that Deby is never going to make it to the elections scheduled for May. Although Deby has been re-elected a couple of times he came to power in coup. The BBC points out that power has never been transferred by the ballot box in Chad in 46 years since independence, and it clearly looks like the FUC don’t intend for that ‘tradition’ to change.

I mentioned the French presence in Chad in my previous post. The French are reinforcing their troop numbers there and, according to BBC World Service, have been relaying reconnaissance intelligence to the government from their Mirage fighters over-flying the rebel advance. The BBC correspondent suggested it was unlikely that the French troops would actually get involved in fighting (rescue the white people seems to be their most-likely role if Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire are anything to go by), but in the NYT a French Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the rebel attempt to change regimes by force and said that Chad was an “anchor for the stability of the continent as a whole”. The NYT doesn’t note if he managed that line with a straight face.

I started taking an interest in this otherwise rather obscure part of the world due to research I have been doing on the US military involvement in the Sahel/Sahara region under a programme called the TSCTI or the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative. The US has been in Chad and has trained a small number of troops (see Washington Post 26 July 2006 “US Pushes Anti-Terrorism in Africa”). The BBC’s reporter was saying that it isn’t yet clear how much of the Chadian army is sticking with Deby and how many have joined the rebels, but it will be interesting to see what happens with the US trained troops. One of the worries about the TSCTI was that the US was arming and training small groups in all the Sahelian countries’ militaries that could be central in future coup attempts, due to their superior skills and equipment. Of course the opposite could be true: that these troops end up successfully defending the government. We shall see.

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