45 Years of Wars and Insurgencies in Chad
Insurgency and low-intensity conflict have marked the history of Chad, and especially its desert in the north and east, from 1963 to 2008. Chad saw the emergence of no less than 13 incipient insurgencies already within the first 15 years of its existence, and an even larger number in the subsequent years, while attacks on caravans and farms belong to everyday life. The spread of insurgency, progressive collapse of the central government and innerpolitical quarrels resulted in a major invasion by Libya, and the country eventually became a French military protectorate.
Early InsurgenciesChad’s internal woes began with the policies of President François Tombalbaye, who ruled the country from independence in 1960 to 1975. Tombalbaye was a Christian from the south of the country, who relied upon his region as a support base.
In the sparsely populated Muslim and animistis northern and eastern regions, his government was suppressing dissent and favoured his own. The large-scale rebellion with uprisings by Moubi tribesmen occured, in the mountains of the Guera Prefecture: local peasants, alienated from the central government, armed themselves with traditional weapons and an assortment of old World War II arms and directed their anger against officials of the central government. Despite harsh reprisals by the government, uprisings then spread to the Batha Prefecture, within ethnic groups of Zaghawa and Bideyat, and over the next two years to Ouaddai as well as Salamat.
The Forces Armées Tchadiennes - FAT (Chadian Armed Forces), originally founded in 1960 as the national army, with about 8,000 personnel at the time, were unable, despite their advantage in firepower and mobility, to contain the spread unrest. By the mid-1960s, the rebellion spread to the ethnic Tobous, living mainly in the Saharan prefecture of Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti (BET). As a result, in August 1968 there was a mutiny of the Toubou-dominated National Guard and Nomad Guard garrisons in Aouzou.
Meanwhile, with some support from Algeria, Libya and Sudan, various insurgent movements organised under the aegis of the Front de Libération Nationale du Tschad - (FROLINAT), and controlled vast areas of central Chad. In March 1969, Tombalbaye eventually felt forced to request direct assistance from the French government. In response, Paris swiftly deployed the 1st Parachute Regiment of the Foreign Legion, several helicopters and four Douglas AD-4 "Skyraider" fighter-bombers to Chad. This intervention lasted until mid-1971, by when the Chadian Army was able to contain the rebellion in the BET - though not before Tombalbaye’s concessions in the form of political reforms, abolition of many new taxes, and reinstatement of local leaders.
The rebellion of nomads in the BET continued, however, and following a military coup in Libya, on 1st September 1969, former soldiers of the Libyan King’s Toubou Bodyguard, were permitted to return to northern Chad with their weapons. It did not take long before the leader of the Libyan Revolution, Colonel Muammar Qaddaffi, sought to expand the regional influence of his country to Chad.
During the early 1970s, several splits within what was left of the FROLINAT emerged, particularly between the so-called "First-" and "Second Liberation Armies", the latter gradually coming under the control of Hissene Habré, former Chadian official of Toubou Daza (Anakaza clan) extraction and subsequently renamed Forces Armées Nationale (FAN) - National Armed Forces. The Libyan involvement deepened, particularly with the departure of the French from the BET, in January 1971 (completed by the end of the year). The following year, Libyan police and gendarmes occupied parts of the contested Aouzou strip as Qaddaffi sought to justify claims by citing a treaty made by Vichy France with Mussolini during World War II. By 1973, Libyan troops were present in Aouzou, and the following year Tombalbaye was forced to admit that the government had lost control of the area.
Abandoning political and economic reforms, Tombalbaye meanwhile alienated large parts of his southern support base and the military. Arrests of senior military officers accused of plotting a coup, in June 1973 and March 1975, resulted in junior officers staging a mutiny and ordering gendarmerie units into the capital, to overthrow and kill the President, on 13th April 1975. General Felix Malloum became the new President of Chad. He immediately called for withdrawal of all Libyan troops from Aouzou, and enlisted Habré insurgent faction to counter the threat by the Libyan-backed FROLINAT faction led by Goukouni Oueddei. Finally, in December 1977 Malloum felt forced to request help from the French as well, and these reacted with Operation "Tacaud", which saw the deployment of 2,000 troops to N’Djamena, as well as the first appearance of jet fighter-bombers of the Armée de l’Air in form of eight SEPECAT "Jaguar" as that arrived in N’Djamena.
Together with Aérospatiale SA.316 Alouette helicopters of the French Army Air Corps, these supported several operations, but found themselves facing well-equipped insurgents and suffered a number of losses to Soviet-made SA-7 Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPAD). Two "Jaguars" were shot down, on 3rd and 31st May 1978, respectively, while two others were lost in accidents, in August and October of the same year.
Libyan InterventionThe weak government of Felix Malloum could not survive Habré’s ambitions to seize power and Oueddei’s access to support by Qaddaffi: In 1978, they exploited internal dissent within the government to effectively take power, forcing the President into exile. With the central government rendered largely irrelevant, a civil war amongst the eleven emergent fractions broke out, with Habré and Oueddei fighting foremost among themselves: Even if their government was officially recognized by France, it not only brought the country to ruin, but also prompted direct Libyan military involvement that resulted in Habré’s defeat and flight from the capital.
In 1980, Goukouni Oueddei became president of Chad, backed by a coalition of various groups that called themselves the Gouvernement d’Union Nationale de Transition (GUNT) - (Transitional Government of National Unity). However, he soon began to lose control of the situation, since his power basis was weak and popular demands forced him to order the withdrawal of Libyan troops. Besides, Habré and his Sudan-based supporters, still organized into FAN, launched an insurgency that caused heavy losses to the GUNT. The Libyans reacted with threats and then aerial bombardments of insurgent camps inside Sudan. When these showed no effects, two SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 strikers of the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF) attacked el-Geneina, in Darfur, on 16th September 1981.
Followed by attacks against Kulbus, Tina, Tandatu and Asognam, Libyan air strikes against Sudan culminated with a raid of a Tupolev Tu-22B bomber against the TV-station in Omdurman.
In face of intensive LARAF support, in 1981 Habré’s forces pushed for the capital. After dispersing GUNT-forces and forcing Oueddei to flee to Cameroon, they occupied N’Djamena, on 7th June 1982. Habré declared himself president of Chad on 21st October, following a successful campaign that saw his forces bringing most of the North under their control. Oueddei meanwhile surfaced in Libya, from where he launched a new insurgency with what was left of GUNT in northern Chad.
Despite animosity and outright hatred of many other Chadian political leaders, Habré consolidated his position and then turned his attention at unifying the country. He was well-aware of the diversity of Chad’s three main religious and five large ethnic groups, dispersed into some 250 tribes, their widespread disaffection and resentment in the wake of lengthy civil war, and the need to give them a sense of national unity. Through lobbying and demands for assistance to end Libyan occupation of the north, he managed to mobilise them behind himself to face Oueddei and the remnants of GUNT. Habré formed a new national army, the Forces Armies du Nord (FAN) - Armed Forces of the North, and began preparing for the inevitable showdown with Libya.
The battle began in April 1983, when GUNT emerged out of Aouzou and invaded northern Chad. Despite tenacious resistance from FAN, by 17th June Oueddei’s forces - supported by a 2,000-men strong Libyan "Islamic Brigade" - reached the 80 km long and 20 km wide, strategically important oasis of Faya Largeau. Their first attack, on 23rd June, was repulsed but the second attempt was successful and elsewhere the GUNT and Libyans captured Oum Chalouba, on 6th July, and Ati, two days later. With this advance they threatened Abéche - Habré’s only direct land connection to Sudan.
Regrouping his forces - now under the command of General Idris Déby - Habré launched a brilliant campaign that resulted in the recapture of Faya, on 30th July 1983, but this only prompted a massive Libyan aerial retaliation. Lacking effective weapons for anti-aircraft defence, and suffering from rolling LARAF strikes (which suffered a loss of only one Sukhoi Su-22 fighter-bomber in over 500 combat sorties during this period), on 11th August the FAN was forced to retreat southward.
Operation "Manta"With the situation appearing critical, France decided to launch an in- tervention. Codenamed Operation "Manta" starting on 9th August, saw the deployment of 3,500 French troops, equipped with anti-armour and anti-aircraft defences, flown to N’Djamena by United States and French transport aircraft. The USA also delivered 30 tons of weapons and ammunition for FAN, while the French then followed with the deployment of their air assets - foremost the Task Force "Barracuda", consisting of six "Jaguars" , four Dassault "Mirage" F-1C interceptors, two KC-135FR tankers and two Breguet "Atlantique" reconnaissance aircraft, deployed to N’Djamena on 21st August 1983.
Although it bolstered the FAN in a number of ways (foremost by providing a real air capability against the Libyans, including state-of-the-art air-to-ground support, but also through putting the Libyan forces at a disadvantage), the Operation "Manta" was limited to containment of the Libyan/GUNT invasion and training of the Chadian Army. Indeed, the later was sub-sequently completely reorganized and expanded into the Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes (FANT) - Chadian National Armed Forces. However, when the French troops began constructing defensive positions along the so-called "Red Line" (roughly running along the 16th Parallel), it became obvious that Paris had no intention of expanding the war through attempts to force Libyans out of Chad. Qaddaffi and Oueddei thus showed little interest in negotiated settlement of the conflict and the Red Line became a kind of demarcation line, splitting the country in two parts.
Exploiting the growing unpopularity of Operation "Manta" in France, on 24th January 1984 the Libyans and Oueddei launched a limited operation against a FANT outpost in Ziguey. Before defenders were able to react, a GUNT column took several hostages, including two Europeans, and disappeared towards the north.
The following morning, the HQ of Operation "Manta" reacted by dispatching several Jaguars to find the enemy. Within a few hours, the convoy was located near Torodoum, but now a break of almost one hour followed, due to lengthy negotiations between the HQs in N’Djamena and Paris. During this time, "Jaguars" were refuelled in the air from one of the French KC-135s. Once the order for attack came, French fighter-bombers destroyed a number of vehicles, losing one aircraft in return: the"Jaguar" flown by Captain Michel Croci received a direct hit from a 23 mm anti-aircraft gun and crashed, killing the pilot. A swift reaction by French armed forces, which deployed additional aircraft to Chad but also to Solensara Airbase, on Corsica, ended this incident. However, the Libyans reacted as well, launching the construction of a major airfield in northern Chad, near the water-place Ouadi Doum, and upgrading existing airstrips at Tanoua (Aouzou), Faya Largeau and Fada. These airfields were intended to be a part of network that already included Sebha, Kufra and Ma’atan as-Sara, in Libya, to support Libyan and GUNT operations against Habré inside Chad.
Qaddaffi also reinforced the GUNT to about 4,500 personnel, organized as a light, vehicle-mounted formation, deployed in the Tibesti and areas immediately south of Faya Largeau as well as Fada. Additionally, two mechanized brigades with 5,000 Libyan troops were deployed in Fada, Faya Largeau and Ouadi Doum.
Although France did not feel threatened by Libyan military in Chad, the following political offensive by Qaddaffi resulted in negotiations between Libya and France, and an agreement about mutual troop withdrawal. The French part of this agreement was completed on 10th November: All troops were withdrawn, even though Paris ascertained that they could return on short notice through continuous military presence in the Central African Republic. However, Libyan troops not only remained in country: it was soon obvious that a major confrontation was inevitable.
Dissolution of GUNT and Emergence of DébyThe long-awaited GUNT attack on FANT positions began in February 1986. With heavy Libyan support, Oueddei’s forces moved from Faya Largeau and Fada between 11th and 16th February, launching attacks along the Red Line. Though all of these were repelled, vicious activity of LARAF fighter-bombers compelled the French into their next intervention. On 16th February 1986, eight low-flying Jaguars attacked Ouadi Doum with BAT-100 runway-piercing bombs (RPBs). The Libyan response was as swift as lethal: on the following day, a lonesome Tu-22B bomber approached N’Djamena using a commercial corridor over Niger, and hit the runway of N’Djamena International with three 500 kg bombs, shutting down the airfield for 24 hours. Finally, on the morning of 18th February, a Libyan MiG-25R thundered high over the Chadian capital. It was obvious that the LARAF was in possession of aerial supremacy in Chad.
This time, the French took the challenge, announcing the start of Operation "Épervier" (Sparrowhawk), that san deployment of 2,500 troops along the 16th parallel, as well as a detachment of "Mirage" F-1C and "Jaguar" fighter-bombers, supported by tanker aircraft and air defence assets, at N’Djamena airport. The Pentagon followed with delivery of arms and ammunition worth U.S. $ 10 million. The GUNT offensive was eventually stopped at Oum Chalouba, on 5th March, and by a FAN counterattack against the Libyan base at Chicha, which was destroyed and captured - together with a number of Libyan troops. Discredited by the failure of Oueddei’s offensive, the Libyans then also found themselves confronted with the USA in the Mediterranean and at the receiving end of several heavy air raids by U.S. Navy and Air Force raids against Benghazi and Tripolis, in April.
Meanwhile, shielded by the French troops deployed along the Red Line, the FANT was again reorganized and further expanded. During the campaign in the spring of 1984, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Chadian Army, Idris Déby, a young officer and helicopter pilot from the Zaghawa tribe, born in Fada, distinguished himself through the successful destruction of most of GUNT forces in the east. The following year, he was sent on a course at the École de Guerre, in Paris. Returning to Chad in 1986, Déby became the chief military adviser to the President, and immediately began reorganizing the Chadian Army again.
Considering the nature and capabilities of his fighters, he developed a tactic based on classic desert nomad raids, characterised by attacks at high speeds, penetration into the hearth of enemy bases and their destruction - often from virtual point-blank range. Correspondingly, he established a large number of mobile companies of about 150 men, each equipped with around a dozen of highly mobile and rugged Toyota 4WD pickup trucks, on which anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons were mounted. Combined with few support assets, smaller units were organized into battalion- or even brigade-sized formations. Emphasising speed, manoeuvrability and firepower, they proved capable of deployments out to 500 km deep within enemy territory. Through movement in scattered formations, dispersed over immense expanses of Sahara Desert, they were to avoid contact with forward enemy positions or any attacks on main fortifications, attempting instead to infiltrate these, then concentrate in the vicinity of the target area and attack exploiting the moment of surprise. This development of the FANT was to become the main characteristic of the next episode in Chadian history.
Toyota WarsThe failure of the spring-1986 GUNT offensive set in motion its effective disintegration. Already undermined by Habré’s propaganda many of this organisation’s leading figures began to rally around the President, effectively ending the rebellion in the south. The end in the North came soon afterwards, following the news of Oueddei’s wounding in the course of a battle between his bodyguards and Libyan security forces in Tripolis, on 10th October 1986. By November the Libyans in northern Chad were facing a full-scale rebellion of a GUNT faction now reorganized into Forces Armées Populaires (FAP) - People’s Armed Forces. Bardai, Zouar, Yebbi Bou and even Aouzou with its airfield were soon in rebel hands, Libyan troops not only fighting an insurgency, but finding their lines of communication cut off and garrisons at Fada, Faya Largeau and Ouadi Doum practically under a siege, despite control of the air.
That was the situation in which Déby led the FANT in a decisive campaign. His first target was a large concentration of Libyan troops at Fada. The FANT struck early on 2nd January, penetrating the armoured cordons protecting the base and then attacking it from within. The Libyans retreated in disorder, only to be overrun. By the late afternoon, 784 Libyan troops were killed and 81 captured, 92 T-55 tanks and 33 BMP-1 IFVs destroyed, 29 captured, respectively, together with a huge amount of weapons, including artillery and logistics vehicles. In exchange, the FANT suffered a loss of 18 killed, 54 wounded and three destroyed vehicles.
The stunning victory at Fada and the utter rout of the Libyans was not overshadowed by retaliatory air strikes of LARAF MiGs, Sukhois and SF-260s, that hit Fada, Zouar and Arada during the following days, since Qaddaffi’s air force could do little to diminish the debacle. On the contrary: In reaction to Libyan air strikes on the morning of 7th Janaury 1987, French "Jaguars" and "Mirages" flew a decisive strike against Ouadi Doum. This time, not only the runway was hit by RPBs, but also the air traffic control and air defence radar systems knocked out by anti-radar missiles.
Barely 14 days later, on 21st January 1987, FANT attacked a Libyan force near Zouar, routing it completely. The Libyans again retaliated with air raids, but these proved ever less effective: equipped with FIM-42A "Redeye" MANPADs and ZU-23 automatic anti-aircraft cannons, Chadian units now possessed at least limited air defence capabilities, forcing Libyan pilots to drop their bombs from higher levels - in turn decreasing their precision. Besides, with Ouadi Doum proving vulnerable to French air raids, the majority of LARAF assets was withdrawn to airfields further in the north, in turn decreasing their payload-carrying capabilities. By the end of January, FANT forces were thus free to raid along the central axis to the northwest of Faya Largeau, and threatening the resupply routes of Libyan forces in the northeast as well.
The culmination of Déby’s campaign came as the result of a Libyan counterattack, launched by two mechanized brigades against Fada, in mid-March 1987. The Chadians waited until these forces moved some 50 km south of Ouadi Doum, then struck using their new tactics: the first Libyan brigade was overrun at Bir Koran, on 19th March, losing 384 killed and 47 captured troops, as well as most of its heavy weapons. The following day, the second formation was destroyed as well, suffering a loss of 467 killed and 89 captured. Realizing that the Libyans retreated across the desert directly to Ouadi Doum, Déby followed in a pursuit through minefields, his force firing as it went. The subsequent clash resulted in another catastrophic defeat for the Libyans: within 25 hours, the FANT not only destroyed their main airfield in northern Chad, but also reported 1,269 Libyans as killed and 438 - including the Zone Commander, Colonel Khalifa Haftar - as captured. 89 T-55 tanks and 120 BMP-1s, two Tu-22B bombers, eleven Aero L-39 light strikers, two SF-260Ws, three Mi-24 helicopter gunships, two intact Surface to Air Missile- (SAM)-sites, and an immense amount of other armament and equipment were destroyed or captured.
The Final BlowThe loss of Ouadi Doum sealed the fate of the Libyan occupation of northern Chad. Without this airfield, the LARAF was unable to continue providing close air support resulting in a hurried withdrawal of remaining ground forces northward into the Aouzou Strip. By 27th March, the FANT reoccupied Faya Largeau, and on 1st April Gouro, amid fierce raids of the Libyan air force against Fada and Ouadi Doum, aimed at denying Chadians the use of captured equipment.
Following consolidation of FANT positions, and ignoring French requests to bring the Aouzou Strip issue before an international tribunal, in August 1987 Habré and Déby decided to bring this area under their control as well. A 400-strong force under command of Mahamat Nouri was deployed against the town of Aouzou, which was quickly captured. However, since the airstrip at Tanoua and the local base remained in Libyan hands, the Libyans were able to mount a strong counterattack. This time, they hit back in the same manner, deploying two battalions equipped with 4WD vehicles, under Colonel Ali Sharif al-Rifi - though supported by fighter-bombers. The LARAF flew over 500 combat sorties in support of this operation, but began suffering badly from improved Chadian air defences: between 17th and 24th August 1987, the Chadians shot down no less but nine combat aircraft and helicopters, including a Tu-22B near Aouzou and a "Mirage" 5 in Ounianga Kebir area.
Despite losses, the Libyans continued their air raids, eventually cutting Nouri’s supply lines off: by 29th August, his force was out of ammunition and forced to retreat from Aouzou, even though it remained in the mountains south of the town.
This time, Habré’s appeal to Paris for help remained unanswered. Equally, the Libyan leader continued refusing to negotiate. Correspondingly, the Chadian President and his chief military adviser had to search for a different solution. While their operations through the early 1987 were driven by the requirement for dealing with Libyan mechanized formations and heavily protected bases in northern Chad, by September they intended to end the war through a single, bold military operation.
On 5th September 1987, a force led by FANT’s most able general, Hassan Djamous, struck across the Libyan border at the airfield and garrison in Oasis Ma’atan Bishrah. The surprise was complete: within a few hours, the Chadians claimed 1,713 Libyan troops as killed, as well as destruction of 100 armoured vehicles, 26 aircraft and two helicopters. Once again, an enormous amount of military equipment was captured, which the FANT took back across the border, leaving behind a ravaged airfield and base that then also came under heavy air attack by LARAF fighter-bombers the following morning.
The LARAF did not only strike Ma’atan Bishrah in response: on 8th September, a Tu-22B attempted to hit N’Djamena again. This time, however, the French were ready and the bomber was shot down by a French Army MIM-23B "I-HAWK" defending the international airfield. Realizing that a victory in Chad, or even retention of the Aouzou Strip was out of his reach, Qaddaffi finally agreed to a ceasefire, on 11th September 1987.
Déby’s Climb to PowerHabré was not to enjoy his success for very long. Despite secured borders and apparent union of his multi-ethnic nation, he was reluctant to make required reforms. In 1989, a rift developed between Habré and Déby over the increasing power of the Presidential Guard. Accusing his chief military adviser of preparing a coup d’etat, Habré forced Déby to flee - first to Libya, then to Sudan. In Khartoum, Déby found willing supporters that not only permitted him to organize a new political party composed of local and exiled Chadian Zaghawas and Bideyats - the Mouvement Patriotique du Salut (MPS) - Patriotic Salvation Movement, but also supported him with funding and equipment. By October 1989, the MPS was active within Chad. Encouraged by success from his first few engagements with FANT, on 10th November 1990 Déby unleashed a decisive attack towards the West. His lightning advance on N’Djamena and successful final battles against the Army came as such a surprise that most of foreign observes believed there was an Army coup when Déby reached the capitol, forcing Habré into exile, on 2nd December 1990.
France recognized Déby’s government and continued providing military aid through the 1990s, within the frame of Operation Épervier. Aside from this, his methods of combat appear to have influenced several subsequent wars in Africa, foremost in Rwanda and the former Zaire, in period 1994 to 1997, as well as in Congo of 1998 to 2001.
War in DarfurChad of the late 20th and the early 21st Centuries was relatively free of major uprisings and insurgencies, even though sporadic fighting between various tribes and authorities remained on order of day. Time and again, the FANT had to move against some opponents but the situation was never as critical as since the outbreak of the war in Darfur, in Sudan, in April 2003.
One of many reasons for this conflict were centuries-old differences between different ethnic groups; the other differences between local Islamists and the government in Khartoum, connected with concerns about the loss of political influence. Ethnic Zaghawas from Darfur became dominant within the organization that became known as Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and was one main investigator of this war - foremost through its bold attack on el-Fashir airfield, during which a number of Sudanese Air Force (SuAF) aircraft were destroyed, and 75 Sudanese soldiers killed, on 25th April 2003.
The shock from this attack, obviously patterned along examples from Chad of the 1980s, was felt strongly in Khartoum. Already involved in a war against a major rebellion of the Animists and Christians in the south, the Sudanese Army could reach back on very few resources in Darfur, which was one of major reasons for Khartoum contracting local militias as well as foreign mercenaries to fight the war against Zaghawas and other local ethnic groups. By the early 2004, this conflict resulted in over 200,000 Sudanese searching for security in refugee camps established by the UN and several NGOs in eastern Chad.
Although himself an ethnic Zaghawa, Déby climbed to power in Chad with help from Khartoum. He not only refused to provide aid but later also changed the country’s constitution to run for an unprecedented third term in office. Such decisions lead to fierce condemnations within his own clan and the army - elements within which were secretly supplying arms to the rebels in Darfur, causing tensions with Sudan - but also to two coup attempts and considerable number of President’s political and military aides defecting. In eastern Chad and in Sudan they found a number of insurgent groups active from earlier times, but also contact to Khartoum. Déby’s preoccupation with his own survival left him eventually unable of protecting the border to Sudan, while enabling Sudanese militias to raid as deep as 200 km inside Chad, while his Chadian insurgents launched a recruiting campaign in several eastern provinces. These developments resulted in intercommunal grievances turning violent, and between 180,000 and 190,000 Chadian civilians fled their homes by the late 2007, joining over 200,000 refugees from war-ravaged Darfur on a search for safety.
The UFDD AllianceAll through 2006 and 2007, the rebels waged a tit-for-tat campaign in the Abéche area, while their most prominent leader, Mahamat Nouri, launched attempts at aunification of several insurgent movements, but also negotiations with the government. In an attempt to topple Déby, in April 2006, the rebels launched a bold offensive towards N’Djamena, only to be stopped at the outskirts of the city in bitter fighting that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, but also hundreds of victims among civilians. Other rebel offensives were far less successful, even though some did cause heavy losses to what was left of the Armée Nationale du Tchad (ANT) - Chadian National Army.
On the contrary, the success of ANT offensives resulted in two cease-fires and even a signing of a truce, the latest on 24th December 2007. This died away within days: although some of rebel leaders agreed to accept various positions within Déby’s government, most of their fighters refused an integration into the Army - some even turning against their superiors.
By late 2007, most rebel units had concentrated in several camps in West Darfur, where their leaders forged a new alliance, l’Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Développement (UFDD) - Union for Democracy and Development. Interestingly, like the JEM before them, the UFDD also deployed units patterned on Déby’s ideas from the 1980s, mounting them on highly mobile Toyota 4WD pickup trucks, armed with anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons.
Déby’s government reacted with a counteroffensive, undertaken with some help from the Armée de l’Air Tchadienne (AAT) - Chadian Air Force. Its light strikers and combat helicopters flew a series of fierce raids, particularly in an area south of el-Geneina, the capitol of West Darfur. These were continued through January as well, the government claiming to have caused heavy casualties to UFDD.
Chadian Air Force and French ContingentAt the start of the new insurgency, the AAT had only few combat aircraft and helicopters, and attrition in two years of fighting was heavy. Since late 2006, the air force was re-built with considerable help from Libya, as well as increasing revenues from oil exports. A Pilatus PC-7 and a PC-9 had reinforced the strike/COIN-element, and two Kazan Helicopters Mi-17-V5s its helicopter squadrons. Both the PCs as well as new Mi-17s were equipped to carry Mk-81 bombs, as well as rocket- and gun-pods. In addition, Libya donated two An-26s, and four SF-260Ws. Maintenance of most aircraft was provided by technicians of the French air force, though PC-7/-9-pilots were Chadians, while helicopters were flown by several Ukrainian, Algerian, South African and even one Mexican pilots.
Ever since 1986, the airfields in N’Djamena and Abéche have been under the control of the 1,150-strong French Military Contingent in Chad ("Elements Francais au Tchad" - EFT). Camp Kossei in N’Djamena is usually occupied by 950 and Camp Croci in Abéche (named after the "Jaguar"-pilot killed in 1983) by some 200 troops. As of February, the EFT included two companies from the 21st Marines Infantry Regiment - 21e Regiment d’Infanterie de Marine (21e RIM), equipped with VAB APCs), one cavalry squadron from the 1er Regiment Etranger de Cavalerie - 1er REC (the only cavalry regiment of the Foreign Legion, equipped with ERC-90 Sagaie armoured cars), and one 120 mm mortar battery from the 3e Regiment d’Artillerie de Marine - 3e RAMa.
For several years, the French rotated small contingents of "Mirage" fighters, supported by KC-135FR tankers and C-160 "Transall" transports through Chad. As of February 2008, this included three "Mirage" F-1CT fighter-bombers and three F-1CR reconnaissance fighters, and two "Transalls" (including one Transall "Licorne" tanker aircraft), based in N’Djamena. A "Lockheed" C-130 "Hercules" and a KC-135FR were on a visit as well. The airfields in N’Djamena and Abéche were protected by around 200 Commandos de l’Air, equipped with VIB APCs. Some 20 of these were specialized in combat-SAR, and supported by two Eurocopter EC-725 "Caracal" of EH01.067 Pyrenees, the sole CSAR unit of French Air Force. Also deployed to N’Djamena was a COS-element (Commandement des Forces Specials - the French equivalent of U.S. SOCOM). The Aéronavale (French Naval Aviation) was also present in the country, usually in appearance of two Breguet "Atlantique" two maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.
Showdown in N’DjamenaIn late January 2007, pending the arrival of first EUFOR contingents in N’Djamena, the UFDD launched a new advance on N’Djamena. Late on 30th January, an advance guard swiftly overpowered a small ANT garrison in Oum Hadjer, in central Chad, capturing not only a sizeable amount of fuel in the process: the road to N’Djamena was now open. Swiftly deploying some 280 4WD vehicles from camps inside Sudan along a route due north of Goz-Beida, the UFDD passed Ati by the evening of 31st January. Apparently left without a complete picture of the situation on the battlefield, Déby deployed a blocking party under the command of General Daoud Soumain, Chief-of-Staff ANT, towards the town of Massaguet, some 80 km north-east of capital, but this was swiftly overpowered by the rebels, on the morning of 1st February.
Early the next day, first UFDD Toyotas reached N’Djamena almost unobserved. Searching for the Presidential Palace and unfamiliar with unnamed streets and a lack of sign posts, the rebels several times collided with two companies of T-55 and T-62 tanks of the Presidential Guard, resulting in heavy losses on both sides, and much suffering of the local population. The rebel advance was stopped by the evening, though, and on the following morning a strong combined counterattack by the Guard and AAT followed - mainly along the avenue Charles de Gaulle. Three columns, each proceeded by several tanks, and all supported by Mi-17s, pushed into northern and eastern N’Djamena. Short of ammunition and fuel, after two days of pitched battles which its leaders had not expected, the UFDD was forced to retreat into eastern outskirts of the capital by the morning of 4th February.
For the following two days, the remnants of rebel forces came under ever more air attacks while waiting for a relief column to arrive from eastern Chad with supplies and additional ammunition. This column, said to have counted over 100 vehicles, was again supported by diversionary attacks against Government forces in the Adré area, but came under immense pressure from AAT and could not reach the capital. Left without ammunition, by the morning of Wednesday, 6th February, the rebels were forced to retreat to central Prefecture of Guera. There, their two main columns apparently joined and then launched attacks against Mongo and Bitkin. Simultaneously, additional UFDD-forces apparently overrun the town of Goz-Beida, and adjacent dirt strip, where an Antonov An-32 of the Ukrainian Air Alliance company might have been captured intact in the process.
The week-long battle for N’Djamena forced Paris to reinforce EFT through an addition of a Marine Airborne Company, flown in aboard two Transall transports from Gabon, on 1st February. Simultaneously, they launched a major evacuation effort for foreigners. French troops secured several gathering points around N’Djamena and then escorted them to the airport: 1,620 foreign nationals - including 712 children - were evacuated in the course of this operation by aircraft to Gabon. The Chinese flew out 210 of their own citizens and two Taiwanese, while the South African expatriates evacuated their own.
Correspondingly, a large number of mobile companies of about 150 men were established, each equipped with around a dozen of highly mobile and rugged Toyota 4WD pickup trucks, on which anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons were mounted. Combined with a few support assets, smaller units were organized into battalion- or even brigade-sized formations. Emphasising speed, manoeuvrability and firepower, they proved capable of deployments of up to 500 km deep within enemy territory. Through movement in scattered formations, dispersed over immense expanses of the Sahara Desert, they were to avoid contact with forward enemy positions or any attacks on main fortifications, instead searching to infiltrate these, then concentrate in the vicinity of the target area and attack exploiting the moment of surprise. This development of the FANT was to become the main characteristic of the next episode in Chadian history.
Author: Tom Cooper; Born in Vienna, Austria in 1970. His travels in the Middle East and North Africa have enabled him to establish excellent contacts with informed sources in local countries. Working as freelance aviation journalist and historian since 2000, he specialized in little known air forces and air wars since 1945. He has published six books and several dozens of articles so far, mainly about the Arab and the Iranian, as well as African Air Forces, and the Iran-Iraq War.