Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali

Andrew McGregor

September 7, 2017

In April 2017, the foreign minister of Libya’s Tripoli-based Presidency Council estimated the number of Chadian mercenaries operating in Libya to be 18,000, with another 6,000 hailing from Sudan (Libya Herald, August 23). The numbers emphasized the growing problem of mercenary activity in Libya as well as other parts of Africa.

FACT commander Mahamat Mahdi Ali (Taha Jawashi/Libération).

The first of the Chadian armed groups began operations in Libya’s lawless southern Fezzan region in 2014. Though most of these groups presented themselves as rebels opposing the regime of Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno (who himself took power in a 1990 coup), they shared the common inability to take on Chad’s formidable military. In the meantime, these groups have obtained arms and funding by renting themselves out as mercenaries in Libya’s internal conflict as well as trafficking in people and narcotics through their knowledge of border smuggling routes.

In 2016, Chadian dissident General Mahamat Mahdi Ali gathered many of these groups together under his leadership in the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT – Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad). Operating out of bases south of the Fezzan capital of Sabha, FACT became allied to the powerful Misratan “Third Force militia” (recently renamed the “13th Brigade”), an Islamist group supporting the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) administration in Tripoli. In this capacity, FACT became the enemy of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of militias supporting the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tripoli. Despite Haftar’s steady stream of anti-mercenary invective directed at the GNA, most of the Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries in Libya operate alongside forces under his command.

Early Career

The 48-year-old Mahamat Mahdi is a Daza Tubu of the Kecherda sub-group from the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of northern Chad. The Tubu are a nomadic group of roughly 550,000 black Africans speaking a Nilo-Saharan language and sharing cultural similarities with their Tuareg neighbors to the west. The Muslim Tubu are divided into two main groups according to dialect — the northern Teda found in southern Libya, northern Chad and Niger, and the much larger Daza group (also known by their Arabic name, Gura’an) found in Chad and Niger. Clan rivalries have traditionally played a negative role in Tubu attempts at political unification.

The Teda Tubu (Joshua Project)

Mahamat Mahdi was a leading member of the rebel Mouvement pour la Democratie et la Justice au Tchad (MDJT – Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad), which operated in Tibesti and other parts of the northern Borku-Ennedi-Tibesti (BET) region of Chad from 1998 to 2003. A ceasefire agreement with N’Djamena provided for positions within the government for leading rebels, and Mahamat Mahdi was accordingly made Inspector of the Ministry of Infrastructure. However, he thought better of remaining in N’Djamena when a wave of assassinations began to strike Déby’s political opponents and joined General Mahamat Nouri’s Sudanese-backed Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Developpement (UFDD – Union of Forces for Democracy and Development) (Libération, May 29; PANA, December 16, 2003; Le Visionnaire, June 28, 2016).

The Daza Tubu (Joshua Project)

Nouri, a Daza Tubu of the Anakaza sub-group was the defense minister in the government of President Hissène Habré, a fellow Anakaza who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 before being deposed by General Déby (from the Zaghawa, a group closely related to the Tubu). [1] In 2009, Mahamat Mahdi became secretary-general of the group, mainly composed of Daza Tubu from the Tibesti Mountains, with the Anakaza sub-group as Nouri’s core supporters. [2]

In February 2008, the UFDD reached the Chadian capital of N’Djamena from its bases across the border in Darfur, but was repelled in violent street fighting by forces personally led by President Déby, a reminder that political life had not dulled the ex-general’s tactical edge (TchadActuel, February 17, 2008; Jeune Afrique, February 11, 2008; Le Nouvel Observateur, March 6, 2008).

A 2010 rapprochement between Chad and Sudan put an end to their mutual support for cross-border rebel groups such as the UFDD. Mahamat Mahdi eventually joined Mahamat Nouri in French exile (Chad is a former French colony), but Nouri ordered him to Libya in 2015 in an attempt to revive the UFDD.

The Creation of FACT

Most of the prospective fighters for the revived group came from the Kreda and Kecherda sub-groups of the Daza Tubu. Mahamat Mahdi used his influence, particularly among his fellow Kecherda, to bring these fighters under his personal control rather than that of Mahamat Nouri, who could exert little control over the process from his Paris exile. [3] Following a clash between Mahamat Mahdi’s supporters and Nouri’s Anakaza supporters that left 20 of the latter dead, Mahamat Mahdi declared the formation of a new rebel movement, FACT, in March 2016 (VOA/AFP, April 8, 2016). The movement established an operational base inside Chad at Tanoua, a region close to the Libyan border.

Now with a movement of his own behind him, Mahamat Mahdi pointed to the Chadian elections that followed a few weeks later as proof that political change in Chad was impossible through the ballot box:

At the beginning, we hoped that there would be a political change at the end of the presidential election. But it was well known that Déby would not give up power. We saw the result: the real winner was robbed of his victory, the ballot boxes were stuffed, the opposition activists were intimidated… The regime has also tried to divide our movement. Only force will make Déby leave, it is our conviction. Slowly but surely, we are preparing to reach our goal… to put an end to this anarchic regime dominated by a small group of men. We have no personal ambitions. We will not fight to retain power. It is no longer possible nowadays to take power with some 4x4s [as Déby did in 1990] and to keep it (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). [4]

Mercenary Activities

FACT quickly split in June 2016, when its Kreda clan fighters followed former UFDD spokesman Mahamat Hassani Bulmay into a new group, the Conseil de Commandement Militaire pour le Salut de la République (CCMSR – Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic), which later allied itself with the Islamist Libyan militant group Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB).

FACT Fighters in Libya (Tchad Convergence)

Unlike the Chadian armed groups that sold their services to Haftar’s LNA, FACT’s alliance with the Misratan Third Force and the BDB brought it unwanted attention from the LNA air force. The group’s base at Doualki, near Sabha, was attacked by LNA aircraft on April 14, 2016. [5] FACT’s rear base at Jabal Saoudah near the Chadian border was attacked by LNA aircraft in mid-December 2016, a strike the movement blamed on collusion between the HoR government in Tobruk and the administration in N’Djamena (Tchadconvergance/AFP, December 13, 2016).

LNA warplanes also bombed FACT positions in Jufra. Mahamat Mahdi claimed the attack took him by surprise: “We thought it was an error at first, until Haftar’s entourage asserted that the purpose was to annihilate any rebellion that might destabilize a neighboring state” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016).

According to the UN, FACT participated in the BDB’s March 2017 attack on the LNA-held Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil facilities on the Mediterranean coast, losing a senior commander in the process. [6] FACT was also reported to be involved in clashes with the LNA around the important Tamenhint airbase northeast of the Fezzan capital of Sahba in mid-April, though Mahamat Mahdi denied involvement (RFI, April 16). In retaliation, the LNA’s 116th Battalion shelled the Chadian camps south of Sabha in June after driving the Misratans from Tamenhint (Facebook in Arabic, June 15, via BBC Monitoring).

Despite much evidence of involvement, General Mahamat Mahdi maintains that FACT has a neutral stance in the Libyan conflict: “It is a position of principle and common sense: we are Chadian rebels, we have no reason to interfere with the Libyan problems” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). The General claims Haftar is colluding with Déby against him.

Chad closed its border with Libya in early January, fearing infiltration of its borders by Tubu rebels and Libyan Islamic State (IS) fighters fleeing northern Libya after the loss of their stronghold at Sirte (Reuters, January 5). France also imposed financial sanctions on Mahamat Mahdi Ali and his rival Mahamat Nouri on January 19. Nonetheless, Mahamat Mahdi claims that FACT has actually helped prevent the southwards penetration of IS fighters: “We oppose groups like the Islamic State that deny human rights. Our presence is a bulwark to their advance towards Libyan south” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). Two months later, he emphasized: “Today the only concern is how to contain the Islamic State” (RFI, February 27, 2016).

Chadian Mercenaries and Qatar’s Diplomatic Crisis

Chad announced on August 23 that it was suspending diplomatic relations with Qatar over “the continued involvement of the state of Qatar in attempts to destabilize Chad from Libya” (La Tribune Afrique, August 23; Reuters, August 23). N’Djamena insists it has “irrefutable proof” that Qatar supports and finances Chadian opposition groups based in Libya, despite denials from Doha (RFI, August 26). Chadian Foreign Minister Hissein Brahim Taha stressed that his government’s dispute with Qatar is strictly a bilateral issue and “not the continuation of the diplomatic crisis” in the Gulf region (La Tribune Afrique, August 24).

N’Djamena claims the Qatari financing is funnelled through long-time Chadian rebel leader Timan Erdimi, who has made Doha his home since 2009. (RFI, August 26). [7] Chad has sought Erdimi’s extradition for several months (La Tribune Afrique, August 24). Erdimi is Déby’s nephew and leader of the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR), a Libyan-based Chadian rebel movement that has provided mercenary support for Haftar’s LNA in the battle for Benghazi and was attacked by the Subul al-Salam Brigade for its involvement in criminal activities around Kufra. Subul al-Salam is a Salafist unit affiliated with Haftar’s LNA and composed largely of Zuwaya Arabs, the dominant Arab group in the Kufra region.

A Libyan-based Chadian rebel group was reported to have crossed the border on the weekend of August 19-20, killing a number of Chadian government troops in a surprise attack. UFR spokesman Yusuf Hamid insists his group was not responsible for the attack: “I categorically deny the accusations of the Chadian government. We did not get anything from Qatar, not a single penny, not a small piece of equipment. Nothing.” (RFI, August 24). If true, this leaves the possibility that the strike was undertaken by Mahamat Mahdi’s larger FACT movement (though there remains a chance it could have been the work of one of the lesser Chadian armed groups active in southern Libya).

Two members of the Kufra-based Subul al-Salam Battalion in southeastern Libya were killed during a clash with Chadian gunmen on August 26. The clash occurred in the Hanagar region some 300 kilometers southwest of Kufra, where the same two groups battled last February. Subul al-Salam claimed to have killed seven Chadians, whose identity cards suggested they were mercenaries working for the LNA-affiliated Ali al-Thumin Brigade (Libya Herald, August 26; Libya Observer, August 26; Libya Observer, February 2; Libyan Express, August 26). The Battalion has also engaged several times in the last few years with Darfur rebels now operating in the region as mercenaries or highwaymen.

Conclusion

Mahamat Mahdi Ali is a strong irritation for the Déby regime in Chad but a constant source of destabilization in Libya. Despite Mahamat Mahdi’s frequent assertions that times have changed, it seems difficult to identify any other plan for him to achieve regime change in N’Djamena other than “to take power with some 4x4s.” Beyond his core group of up to 1500 fighters (some of whom may be in it strictly for the money), there is little evidence of popular support for Mahamat Mahdi’s movement within Chad, where both government and opposition continue to be dominated by the Tubu and related groups, a tiny minority of Chad’s total population. In addition, President Déby’s authoritarianism is overlooked by France and the United States, which value him as a partner in the War on Terrorism. Mahamat Mahdi Ali is thus an important example of a new type of African mercenary ready and willing to exploit regional conflicts for profit while using the cover of legitimate political resistance.

Notes

[1] After a long legal odyssey, Habré was sentenced to life in prison on May 30, 2016 by a Special African Tribunal in Senegal for mass-torture, rape and the murder of 40,000 Chadians during his time as president.

[2] Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), United Nations Security Council, S/2017/466, June 1, 2017, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/N1711623.pdf

[3] Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf

[4] The tactics of using 4×4 trucks equipped with anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns were perfected by General Hassan Djamous (Bidayat) during the 1987 “Toyota War” between Chad and Libya and have been used in a variety of military campaigns in the Sahara/Sahel region since.

[5] Final Report, op cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For a profile of Timan Erdimi, see “A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad,” Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30, 2010, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=2263

This article first appeared in the September 7, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Passing the Torch: Fulani Warlords in the Central African Republic

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, July 23, 2017

The Borku region of Chad is a barren desert wilderness, inhabited today by only the hardiest of nomads. In the midst of this region is an old French colonial-era fort at a place known as Koro Toro, a reminder of the days of the early 20th century when French Legionnaires and Senegalese Tirailleurs fought bitter battles with the Tuareg and Arab warriors of Libya’s Sanusi order for control of Borku.

Koro Toro Prison (Makaila)

Today that fort now serves as one of the world’s most feared prisons, a place of searing heat and daily torture where inmates receive little in the way of food or water and have no expectations of health care. Many of its inhabitants are political prisoners who dared challenge the rule of Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itno and his family. Those who take up arms against the regime are classed as “mercenaries” and very few of those, if any, have been through any kind of judicial process before being sent to Koro Toro for a slow death.  As President Déby once remarked, We do not send mercenaries to Koro-Toro to feed or care for them” (Tchadhanana, November 13, 2009).

One of the most famous of Koro Toro’s condemned is “General” Abdel Kader Baba Laddé, a Fulani warlord whose name means “Father of the Bush” in the Fulani language. [1] Baba Laddé faces a litany of charges related to his activities in the Chad-Central African Republic (CAR) borderlands, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, rape, mutilation, arson, arms-trafficking and the kidnapping of children for use as soldiers.

On July 21, 2017, Baba Laddé’s lawyers held a press conference in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena to protest their client’s continued detention at Koro Toro without trial since January 2015. The advocates claimed there is never any progress made on his file, adding that Baba Laddé is now very ill (APA News, July 21, 2017).

Warlord in the Borderlands

Baba Laddé began his career modestly as an NCO in Chad’s gendarmerie. After leaving the gendarmerie, he assembled a group of bandits in 1998 under the guise of a political movement opposing President Déby’s Chadian regime, called the Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR). The former NCO declared himself a “general” and further adopted the pretension of being the leader of a unified Fulani nation stretching from the west coast of Africa to the Red Sea (Jeune Afrique, December 26, 2011). Nonetheless, he was driven from Chad in 2008 and entered the lightly governed region of the northern CAR, a traditional zone of operations for Chadian freebooters, fugitives, marauders and slavers.

General Abdel Kader Baba Laddé (RFI)

Baba Laddé’s constant clashes with Chadian forces along the border were unwanted by the CAR government, which allowed Chadian operatives working under the Chadian military attaché in Bangui to abduct and deport the warlord to Chad in October 2009. He reappeared in Cameroon in August 2010, claiming to have escaped ten months of torture in Chad. He vanished in November 2010, only to emerge once more in the CAR in January 2011. Baba Laddé then shifted between South Sudan and the CAR, proclaiming his new mission of taking down the governments of both Chad and the CAR.

In July 2012, Chadian president Idriss Déby described Baba Laddé as “a Chadian ex-gendarme who became a route-cutter [highwayman] and ivory trafficker. This is not a rebel, as certain media pretend, but a highway bandit. This type of person does not constitute a menace for Chad. For the CAR [however], it’s possible” (Jeune Afrique, July 23, 2012).

Despite this, Chadian and CAR authorities negotiated a deal for the legal return of the warlord to Chad in September 2012. In January 2013, he was appointed a special advisor to Chad’s prime minister, but conflict between the two led to Baba Laddé fleeing N’Djamena and making the rounds of neighboring countries.

In January 2014, Baba Laddé issued a statement claiming Chadian authorities had tried to organize his arrest and extradition from his refuge in Niamey (capital of Niger), but succeeded only in the arrest of his aide-de-camp (Alwhida Info [N’Djamena], January 27, 2014).

Yet another deal saw Baba Laddé’s return to N’Djamena and his appointment in July 2014 as prefect of Grande Sido, a department of Moyen-Chari province along the CAR border. After being named prefect, Baba Laddé promised to “tackle the task of developing this territory, supporting its people and helping the refugees of the CAR” (Alwhida Info [N’Djamena], July 25, 2014). However, he was dismissed in November 2014 over the opposition of locals who felt he was doing a good job and returned to the bush in the northern region of the CAR just narrowly ahead of soldiers who had been sent to arrest him. His wife and bodyguard, who had been left behind, were brutally assaulted by soldiers angry at being given the slip. A few weeks later, he was detained by the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA and turned over to Chadian officials by the CAR on January 2, 2015. [2] Days later Baba Laddé was sent to Koro Toro prison and has not emerged since.

Baba Laddé’s Successor

After September 2012, Baba Laddé’s role in the CAR was much diminished and leadership of the FPR passed into the hands of his second-in-command, Fulani “General” Ali Darassa Mahamat. The FPR continued to be widely viewed in the CAR as a “foreign” group from Chad, as are the Fulani people in general.

General Ali Darassa Mahamat

In 2013, Darassa led the majority of the FPR into the Séléka coalition, a largely Muslim assembly of various rebel groups whose combined strength allowed them to overthrow the CAR government in March 2013. The coalition’s factions made little pretense of trying to govern the country, instead running wild without restraint, directing much of their violence against Christian communities. The result was the creation of vigilante Christian “anti-Balaka” militias and the outbreak of a disorganized but vicious civil conflict that UN peacekeepers struggled to contain.  Séléka was officially dissolved in September 2013, which failed to stop the violence, but did lead to a realignment of Séléka’s constituent parts as a result of ethnic rivalries and disputes over control of revenues derived from resources.

Ali Darassa regrouped Baba Laddé’s FPR as the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) in September 2014. Officially, the UPC seeks autonomy rather than independence for the Muslim north. The UPC has a fierce rivalry with two other Muslim-majority movements in the CAR:

The Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) – One of the main groups to emerge from the Séléka split, the FPRC is commanded by Noureddine Adam, who seeks independence for the CAR’s Muslim north, believing it is impossible for Muslims and Christians to live together. The group is largely composed of members of the Gula and Runga ethnic groups. The FPRC now cooperates with Christian anti-Balaka fighters against the UPC.

Area of the Republic of Logone/Dar al-Kuti

An FPRC spokesman declared the establishment of the independent Muslim state of Logone in the northeast CAR with Bambari as its capital in December 2015. The name was soon changed to “Dar al-Kuti,” after a 19th century Muslim slave-raiding state under the influence of the Chadian Sultanate of Wadai. In its later days under Sultan Muhammad al-Sanusi, Dar al-Kuti became heavily reliant on slave-labor for agricultural and other purposes. The Sultanate quickly dissolved when the French consolidated their control of the region after al-Sanusi’s death in 1911 and once profitable plantations collapsed as their slave labor fled to the bush.

The FPRC’s General Ibrahim Alawa claims the movement’s problem is not with Fulani civilians, but with Ali Darassa: “He has decided to be King of the Fulani and wants to make them into an army” (IRIN News, May 18, 2017).

The Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC) – Led by General Mahamat al-Khatim, the MPC split from the FPRC in July 2015, but still cooperates with the FPRC when it is to its benefit. Both the MPC and the FPRC are known for murderous attacks against civilians, including vulnerable IDPs. The groups fund themselves in part through “taxes” on Fulani herders using migration routes through territories under their control. [3]

Muslim Militias Battle for Dominance

In 2013, the UPC took control of much of the south-central Ouaka Province, a region of forest savannah. From its base around the town of Bakala, Darassa’s militia has committed repeated massacres and atrocities against local civilians since November 2016. The US chargé d’affaires in the CAR demanded Darassa’s arrest in August 2015 following assaults on civilians at Bambari (the CAR’s second-largest town), though MINUSCA declined to take action.

Gunmen from all the ex-Séléka factions feud over control of diamond and gold-mining areas, though they don’t engage in mining themselves, preferring to let others do the hard work before “taxing” them. Over 400,000 people are now displaced in the CAR, with many Muslims actually taking the risk of fleeing into Christian-controlled regions to avoid the UPC.

Clashes between the FPRC and UPC in April 2017 over control of Ouaka once more led to civilian losses as Fulani herders or suspected Gula and Runga supporters of the FPRC were attacked by gunmen. After an ultimatum from MINUSCA, Darassa led his men out of Bambari on February 21, 2017.

Conclusion

The CAR is an unfortunate victim of the warlord-ism that plagues neighboring South Sudan and other African regions. Exploitive by nature and an opponent of all efforts to establish central authority at their expense, the warlords carry on with impunity. Efforts to promote development, education or health initiatives are unwanted and threatening innovations in the regions they rule.

Even when one warlord, such as Baba Laddé, can finally be removed, there are others ready to immediately fill his place. The limited mandates provided to UN peacekeeping missions and broader international disinterest ensure the warlords’ survival, even as their activities provoke communal violence against the communities they pretend to defend. The consequence, ultimately, will be a growing degradation of once self-sustaining communities and a greater outward flow of desperate, poorly educated and largely unemployable migrants to Western nations that will find it increasingly difficult to accommodate such levels of migration without dramatic changes to their social and economic structure.

Notes:  

  1. The Fulani are also known as Peul or Fula. For a profile of Baba Laddé’s career up until April 2012, see: “Central Africa’s Tribal Marauder: A Profile of Fulani Insurgency Leader General Abdel Kader Baba Laddé,” Militant Leadership Monitor, April 30, 2012, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=455; For a broader view of the violent clashes between Fulani herders and other ethnic groups across the Sahel and its political implications, see: “The Fulani Crisis: Communal Violence and Radicalization in the Sahel,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point CTC Sentinel (Volume 10, Issue 2), February 22, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3881
  2. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), with a strength of 13,000 men.
  3. Human Rights Watch, “Central African Republic: Executions by Rebel Group,” February 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/16/central-african-republic-executions-rebel-group

Chad’s Military Takes the Lead in Campaign against Boko Haram: Can Nigeria’s Embarrassment Equal Multinational Military Success?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report, March 2015

Chad Troops in MaliChadian Troops in the Field in Mali

In a six-week campaign, Chad’s military has mounted an air-supported ground offensive against Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants that has crossed into both Nigeria and Cameroon. In the process, Chad has shattered Boko Haram strength in the Lake Chad border region but now finds further progress stalled as Abuja denies permission to pursue the fleeing gunmen further into Nigeria. With Chadian operations having scored major successes against Boko Haram, there is now a danger the still inefficient Nigerian military will attempt to take over operations on its own territory to bolster the electoral chances of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election on March 28.

Chad’s Military Intervention in Nigeria

A brigade size group (1500 to 2000 men) was sent with some 400 military vehicles to the Lake Chad border region on January 16, 2015. The legal framework for Chadian intervention in the region was already established by the 1998 agreement between Chad, Nigeria and Niger to form a Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) to combat cross-border crime and militancy. Since their arrival in January, Chad’s military has reported a series of spectacular, if numerically unverifiable victories, including a battle at Gambaru in which the army reported the death of 207 Boko Haram militants to a loss of one Chadian soldier killed and nine wounded (Reuters, February 25, 2015) [1]. Nonetheless, the poorly coordinated offensive is still taking a toll on Boko Haram, reducing its strength and expelling it from towns (and economic support bases) taken in recent months. Boko Haram counter-attacks persist, but most are driven back without great loss.

  • On January 29-30, Chadian forces crossed into Nigeria for the first time, using jet fighters and ground forces to drive Boko Haram fighters from the village of Malam Fatori in Borno State after a two-day battle (ThisDay [Lagos], February 1, 2015; Daily Trust [Lagos], January 30, 2015; al-Jazeera, January 30, 2015).
  • On January 31, 2015, Chadian forces reported killing 120 Boko Haram fighters in a battle in northern Cameroon centered around the town of Fatakol and used two fighter jets (most likely Sukhoi Su-25 recently obtained from Ukraine) to bomb the Nigerian town of Gambaru (Reuters, January 31, 2015; AFP, January 31, 2015).
  • On February 3, Chadian troops backed by armored vehicles took Gambaru after a fight of several hours (Independent, February 4, 2015). One Chadian battalion commander who took part in the attack on Gambaru had little praise for the Boko Haram fighters that had resisted months of Nigerian operations in the area, saying “yesterday’s offensive made us realize that the fighters of the sect, mainly composed of minors, are only cowards” (Alwhihda [N’Djamena], January 30).

The rapid success of Chadian forces against Boko Haram fighters in the border region revealed the sham war that Nigeria’s military has mounted against the Islamists – Malum Fatori, for example, had been held by the militants since October, even though it fell to the Chadians in one day. Chad has succeeded by using aerial bombardments on Boko Haram targets prior to massive assaults with ground troops and armor. These tactics stand in contrast to those of the Nigerian military, which has become notorious for poor ground-air coordination and failing to press attacks, often citing inferior arms or ammunition shortages. Nigerian warplanes were blamed for the death of 36 civilians when two fighter-jets attacked a funeral party in the Niger border town of Abadam on February 17 (Reuters, February 18). [2]

Nigeria – No Longer a Regional Military Power

Nigeria’s foreign minister, Aminu Wali, has tried to explain why Nigeria requires international assistance in combatting Boko Haram:

It is not that the Nigeria army isn’t fighting, it actually is. But in the context of an unconventional war, that is something else. The same thing applies to the war on terror. So the conventional armed forces aren’t adapted to this kind of conflict. We have to retrain them so that they will be capable to fight this particular conflict that they’ve never known before (RFI, January 30, 2015).

In October 2014, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon agreed to coordinate their military efforts against Boko Haram, though follow-up was slow. Nigerian relations with Cameron have been historically strained by rival claims to the Bakassi Peninsula in the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea, which was eventually awarded to Cameroon through international arbitration in 2009. Since then, Cameroonian oil infrastructure in the region has been subject to attacks by a hybrid criminal/separatist movement seeking unification with Nigeria.[3]

Since the joint offensive began, Nigerian military performance has improved, which the government chalks up to newly purchased arms and Special Forces reinforcements being sent to help the ill-equipped, poorly-led and occasionally mutinous Nigerian 7th Division, which took over responsibility for the sector from the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) in August 2013 (at one point troops of the 7th Division’s 101st Battalion fired at former division commander Major-General Ahmadu Mohammed, who only narrowly survived – see ThisDay [Lagos], May 16, 2014). The retaking of Baga by Nigerian troops on February 21 deprived Boko Haram of a major base and gave a boost to the political fortunes of President Goodluck Jonathan, but the town could have been taken weeks earlier if the Nigerian Army had not rebuffed Chad’s offer of a joint offensive, according to Chadian Army spokesman Colonel Azem Bermandoa (Reuters, March 3, 2015). Baga was the scene of a firefight in April 2013 in which the JTF and Boko Haram displayed a callous disregard for the lives of civilians in the town, killing over 185 people. The town was taken by Boko Haram in January 2015 when fleeing Nigerian troops allowed the militants to massacre hundreds of civilians (BBC, February 2, 2015).

Northeast Nigeria MapNortheast Nigeria – Zone of Chadian Operations

Colonel Bermandoa has likewise complained that Chadian forces took the ancient Nigerian town of Dikwa in mid-February but were ordered by the Nigerians to evacuate it so the Nigerians could launch an airstrike on the community. Chadian forces were compelled to retake the town on March 2 at a cost of one dead and 34 wounded (AFP, February 19, 2015; Reuters, March 2, March 3, 2015; Premium Times [Lagos], March 2, 2015; RFI, February 3, 2015).

Cameroon and Niger have played secondary but important roles in the offensive, pouring their forces into their border regions where they have repulsed attacks, cut supply routes and prevented Boko Haram fighters from slipping away across the borders.

Why Chad is Fighting in Nigeria

Landlocked Chad’s main trade routes cross through areas of Nigeria and northern Cameroon that have been blocked by Boko Haram occupation and operations, leading to shortages of goods (including food from Nigeria), interruption in the important export trade in Chadian cattle and rapidly rising prices for most goods (Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015).

Economic effects have also been felt in northeastern Nigeria, where the important supply of smoked fish from Lake Chad has been disturbed as a consequence of trade routes being cut by the militants and the fear of fishermen on the Nigerian side of the lake that they will be conscripted into Boko Haram, resulting in shortages and soaring prices for fish in Nigeria (AFP, February 25, 2015).

Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau threatened to launch a war against Chad, Cameroon and Niger in a January 2015 video in retaliation for their alleged pro-French sympathies. The Boko Haram leader also took the opportunity to mock the Nigerian military, which has long complained a lack of equipment and arms is preventing them from properly engaging Boko Haram:

All this war equipment that you see being displayed in the screen are gotten from [the captured Nigerian towns of] Baga and Doro. Your army kept deceiving the world that you can’t fight us because you have no arms. Liars! You have all that it takes; you are just coward soldiers (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

In late January, Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi used a video to issue new threats to Chad and its MJTF partners:

We say to Niger and Chad that if they stop their assault on us and we will stop our assault on them; otherwise, just as you fight us we will fight you. We will inflame a war of which you have not before tasted its bitterness. Withdraw your soldiers before you regret what will come soon and you have no time to regret. (Premium Times [Lagos], January 28, 2015).

Boko Haram made its first attack on Chadian soil on February 13, using motorized canoes to set a fishing village on fire before being repulsed by Chadian soldiers in what the local Chadian governor described as a “publicity stunt” (Reuters, February 13, 2015).

Most Boko Haram members, including its leaders, belong to the once powerful Kanuri community whose former Bornu Empire straddled the modern borderland between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Though most of Boko Haram, including its leadership, are Kanuris, most of the militant group’s victims have also been Kanuri, dispelling any notion that the Islamist movement somehow represents the Kanuri community. Nonetheless, it is clear that Boko Haram members have been able to utilize family ties and other types of kinship to facilitate the cross-border movement of arms, supplies and personnel across local borders. Given this cross-border movement, it seems likely that Chadian security forces will have a close look at the local Kanuri community in southern Chad during their deployment in the region.

Keeping the military busy in the south may also appeal to the Déby regime; the last attempt by factions of the military to mount a coup was less than two years ago, while Déby himself came to power in a 1990 coup. However, continuous deployment to various theatres runs the risk of internal military breakdown and Chad is already committed to maintaining 1,000 men of its small army in Mali as part of UN peacekeeping operations.
Aware of the danger of reciprocal attacks from Boko Haram, Chad’s security forces have stepped up security, mounting roadblocks, securing the entrances to the capital, N’Djamena, guarding assembly points such as schools, markets and places of worship and rounding up suspected Boko Haram sympathizers in N’Djamena. Many of those arrested belong to the Kanuri community, though Interior Minister Abderahim Bireme Hamid insists that “The arrests are not targeted at a particular social group or community, but those suspected of being close to Boko Haram” (Xinhua, January 28, 2015).

Prior Performance in Military Interventions

Chad’s expeditionary force in Mali performed well in 2013 and did much of the fighting to expel the various armed Islamist groups that had seized northern Mali. However, heavy losses from ambushes and suicide bombings compelled President Déby to announce he was withdrawing the Chadian contingent because “The Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy, guerrilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali” (Reuters, April 14, 2013).

Some observers have contrasted the Chadian military’s performance in Mali with their more controversial intervention in the Central African Republic from 2013-2014, where they were accused of political manipulation, arming the Séléka [4] rebels and brutality towards the non-Muslim population that culminated in the massacre of 30 unarmed civilians and the wounding of 300 others when they opened fire on a crowded Bangui market without apparent provocation. [5]

While there was much that was questionable and even indefensible in the performance of Chad’s army in the CAR, it must be recognized that the troops were carrying out N’Djamena’s own agenda in the country, which both modern Chad and pre-colonial sultanates in that region have always regarded as a political and economic hinterland (and prime source of slaves for Chad’s pre-colonial Islamic sultanates) whose rulers were determined by their northern neighbors. In this case, Déby pursued an agenda that involved installing a pliant, Muslim-dominated government in the CAR that would secure the oilfields of southern Chad and prevent opposition forces from using the CAR as a staging-post. Ultimately, pursuit of this policy led to large-scale protests against the Chadians in Bangui and the withdrawal of the Chadian mission.

Chad – A Growing Military Favorite of France and the United States

Chad’s more serious approach to military development and reform has attracted the support of the United States, which now finds serious flaws in its former Nigerian security partner. U.S. training programs and arms sales have broken down in recent years as a result of American concerns with human rights abuses, corruption in the officer corps, infiltration of the Nigerian security forces by Boko Haram and the failure of Nigerian forces to act on U.S.-supplied intelligence (New York Times, January 24, 2015). American concerns with infiltration are not unjustified; a number of senior Nigerian officers have been charged with divulging intelligence to Boko Haram.

Chad is currently host to Flintlock 2015, this year’s version of Flintock, a U.S.-led multinational military exercise conducted by Special Operations Command Forward – West Africa in the interests of improving cooperation and capacity in Saharan counter-terrorism operations. The three-week exercise, which began on February 16, involves more than 100 soldiers from the U.S. 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) as well as trainers from a number of Western nations.

Though President Déby was publicly musing about expelling all French troops from Chad only a few years ago, there has since been an about face on this policy, with Chad welcoming a boost in French forces as part of France’s major redeployment of its military forces in Africa, a shift in focus to mobile counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency units and bases known as Operation Barkhane. As part of this redeployment, French forces in Chad were boosted from 950 to 1250 men, with N’Djamena providing the overall command center at Kossei airbase, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Chadian opposition parties and human rights organizations were dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idris Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

France is currently mounting reconnaissance missions in the Lake Chad border area and is supplying intelligence, fuel and munitions to the military coalition as well as providing ten military specialists to help coordinate military operations from Diffa in Niger (Reuters, February 5, 2015).

Despite the presence of roughly 200 ethnic groups in Chad, the military continues to be dominated by members of President Déby’s northern Zaghawa group despite being only somewhere between 2 to 4% of the population. This situation, however, seems to trouble President Déby more than it does his French and American allies.

The MJTF is slated to be replaced by an expanded and African Union-mandated version of 8750 men that will include troops from Benin as well as Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Logistical and intelligence support will be supplied by France and the United States. Command of the new force will rotate amongst member nations, beginning with Nigeria. The force is proposed to include the following contributions of troops: Nigeria 3500; Chad 3500; Cameroon 750; Niger 750; Benin 250 (BBC, February 25, 2015). A mandate for the mission from the UN Security Council is being sought with French support; this would provide greater funding and access to equipment and training.

Conclusion

If Chad succeeds where Nigeria failed, the result might be a collapse in confidence in Nigeria’s federal government leading to a further break-up of the country as various regions and ethnic groups seek to provide for their own security. The trick will be how to integrate Nigerian forces into the multinational group’s operations despite a well-deserved lack of confidence in the Nigerian military’s ability to mount operations or safeguard intelligence, especially in the midst of a Nigerian presidential campaign pitting a northern Muslim against the southern Christian incumbent. At the moment, there is little cooperation between the various militaries in the Lake Chad region as each continues to operate largely independently – a state of affairs Abuja appears to favor. This appears to be a Nigerian vote in favor of continuing the regional status quo, in which multilateral cooperation is lacking, trade minimal and effective transportation networks so absent that it is impeding the struggle against Boko Haram. As one recent report noted, “it is still easier to fly to Europe from Nigeria than to any of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.” [6]

Given the resilient nature of Boko Haram, its appeal to local religious extremists and its growing connections to the international jihadi community, it is worth asking whether the Chadian deployment will have to be open-ended in order to prevent a Boko Haram revival even in the event current operations destroy existing militant formations. Nigeria’s military will not become reliable or capable overnight regardless of what types of weapons the government obtains during its current buying campaign from international illegal arms markets. An extended stay will be expensive for N’Djamena, which is suffering from a sharp decline in oil prices, but if the costs are covered by the West and compensation is offered in terms of French and American advanced training and arms for the elite corps of the Chadian military, the prospect might take on a greater appeal for Déby and his Zaghawa-dominated regime. However, Chad’s army remains small, and the current tempo of operations cannot be maintained for long. There is a window of opportunity now for the destruction of Boko Haram, but it is slowly being shut by political considerations in the Nigerian capital.

Notes

1. Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi recently described the Hausa-language term “Boko Haram” (loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden”) as a media invention designed to denigrate the Islamist movement, which he insisted be described in future using its full and official name: “We say that we did not name ourselves “Boko Haram. “Our call is not limited to prohibiting foreign schools and democracy. We are Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa wal Jihad. Therefore, this name [Boko Haram] is an attempt to bury the truth. We carry out the support for the Sunnah and establish governance of Allah in the land” (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

2. An amateur video purporting to show a hot firefight between Chadian troops and Boko Haram fighters can be seen at a pro-Chadian government news-site: http://www.alwihdainfo.com/L-armee-tchadienne-enchaine-d-ecrasantes-victoires-le-Nigeria-predit-la-fin-de-Boko-Haram_a15031.html Though there is the continual sound of gunfire it is difficult to tell whether any of the rounds are actually incoming. There are no apparent Chadian casualties despite the failure of many of the soldiers to seek any kind of cover; at one point a soldier crosses in front of the Chadian firing line without suffering harm. More credible video of Chadian operations in Nigeria can be seen at: http://www.france24.com/en/20150219-video-chadian-army-clashes-with-boko-haram-nigeria/

3. For the Bakassi dispute, see: Andrew McGregor, “Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 8(43), November 24, 2013, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37208&no_cache=1#.VPDWei5cvfY

4. Séléka was a coalition led by the now-exiled Michel Djotodia and composed of the following groups: Front démocratique du peuple centrafricain (FDPC – led by General Abdoulaye Miskine [real name Martin Koumtamadji], a career rebel/freebooter in the Chad/CAR border region); Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP); Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement, UFDR; Convention Patriotique pour le Salut du Kodro (CPSK); and the Alliance pour la renaissance et la refondation (A2R).

5. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Press briefing notes on Central African Republic and Somalia, Geneva, April 4, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14471&LangID=E

6. Onyedimmakachukwu, “It’s Time for Lake Chad Countries to Move from War Comrades to Business Partners,” February 24, 2015, http://www.ventures-africa.com/2015/02/its-time-for-lake-chad-countries-to-move-from-war-comrades-to-business-partners/

Operation Barkhane: France’s New Military Approach to Counter-Terrorism in Africa

Andrew McGregor

July 24, 2014

With several military operations underway in the former colonies of French West Africa, Paris has decided to reorganize its deployments with an eye to providing a more mobile and coordinated military response to threats from terrorists, insurgents or other forces intent on disturbing the security of France’s African backyard.

France will redeploy most of its forces in Africa as part of the new Operation Barkhane (the name refers to a sickle-shaped sand dune). Following diplomatic agreements with Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania (the “Sahel G-5”), over 3,000 French troops will be involved in securing the Sahel-Sahara region in cooperative operations involving G-5 troops. Other assets to be deployed in the operation include 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 200 trucks, six fighter-jets, ten transport aircraft and three drones (Le Figaro [Paris], July 13).

Operation BarkhanePresident Hollande made a tour of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Chad between July 17 to 19 to discuss the new security arrangements with political leaders, but also to promote French trade in the face of growing Chinese competition (Economist, July 19). In Niger, Hollande was met by a group protesting French uranium mining operations in that country (AFP, July 18). In a speech given in Abidjan, French president François Hollande declared that the reorganization of French military assets in Africa would enable “quick and effective responses to crisis… Rather than having heavy and unwieldy crisis bases, we prefer to have facilities that can be used for fast and effective interventions” (Nouvel Observateur [Paris], July 19).

The official launch of Operation Barkhane will come in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena on August 1. The operation will be commanded by the highly-experienced Major General Jean-Pierre Palasset, who commanded the 27e Brigade d’Infanterie de Montagne (27th Mountain Infantry Battalion, 2003-2005) before leading Operation Licorne in Côte d’Ivoire (2010-2011) and serving as commander of the Brigade La Fayette, a joint unit comprising most of the French forces serving in Afghanistan (2011-2012).

The initiation of Operation Barkhane brings an end to four existing French operations in Africa; Licorne (Côte d’Ivoire, 2002-2014), Épervier (Chad, 1986-2014), Sabre (Burkina Faso, 2012-2014) and Serval (Mali, 2013-2014). Licorne is coming to an end (though 450 French troops will remain in Abidjan as part of a logistical base for French operations) while the other operations will be folded into Operation Barkhane. Operation Sangaris (Central African Republic, 2013 – present) is classified as a humanitarian rather than counter-terrorism mission and the deployment of some 2,000 French troops will continue until the arrival of a UN force in September (Bloomberg, July 21). Some 1200 French soldiers will remain in northern Mali (Guardian [Lagos], July 15). Existing French military deployments in Djibouti, Dakar (Senegal) and Libreville (Gabon) are expected to be scaled back significantly, a process already underway in Dakar (Jeune Afrique, July 19).

8 RPIMaSoldiers of the 8th Regiment of Marine Infantry Paratroopers (8e RPIMa), deployed in Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire

The force in Chad has been boosted from 950 to 1250 men. Chad will play an important role in Operation Barkhane – N’Djamena’s Kossei airbase will provide the overall command center, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Zouar, a town in the Tubu-dominate Tibesti Masif of northern Chad, has also been mentioned as a possibility (Jeune Afrique, July 19). Kossei will provide a home for three Rafale fighter-jets, Puma helicopters and a variety of transport and fuelling aircraft. Chadian troops fought side-by-side with French forces in northern Mali in 2013 and are regarded as the most effective combat partners for France in North Africa despite a recent mixed performance in the CAR. Four Chadian troops under UN command died in a June 11 suicide bombing in the northern Mali town of Aguelhok (AFP, June 11). Chadian opposition and human rights groups are dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idriss Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

Intelligence operations will be headquartered in Niamey, the capital of Niger and home to French unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in West Africa. There are currently about 300 French troops stationed in Niger, most of them involved in protecting, maintaining and operating two unarmed General Atomic MQ-9 Reaper drones and an older Israeli-built Harfang drone (Bloomberg, July 21). The French-operated Harfang drones are being gradually phased out in favor of the MQ-9s, though the Harfangs saw extensive service during French operations in northern Mali in 2013. Three Mirage 2000 fighter-jets will be transferred from N’Djamena to Niamey. A French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 surveillance aircraft has been withdrawn from Niamey with the conclusion of Operation Serval.

Small groups of French Special Forces will continue to be based in Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, and at Atar, a small settlement in northwestern Mauritania. Other small bases are planned for Tessalit in Mali, which controls the road running between the rebellious Kidal region and southern Algeria, and in Madama in Niger, a strategic post near the Malian border that was the site of a French colonial fort. There are reports that French troops have already occupied the nearby Salvador Pass, an important smuggling route between Niger and Libya that appears to have acted as a main transit route for terrorists passing through the region (Libération [Paris], July 16).

French forces in the Sahel-Sahara region will continue to be targeted by Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Murabitun group, which claimed responsibility for the death of one Legionnaire and the wounding of six others in a suicide bomb attack in northern Mali on July 15 (al-Akhbar [Nouackchott], July 16; RFI, July 17). Much of the ground element for Operation Barkhane is likely to be drawn from the French Légion étrangère and the Troupes de marine, the successor to the French Colonial Infantry.

The implementation of Operation Barkhane, an apparently permanent defense agreement with five former French colonies, raises a number of important questions, not least of which is what attitude will be adopted by Algeria, the most powerful nation in the Sahara-Sahel region but one that views all French military activities there with great suspicion based on Algeria’s 132-year experience of French occupation. There is also a question of whether the new defense agreements will permit French forces in hot pursuit of terrorists to cross national borders of G-5 nations without obtaining permission first. The permanent deployments also seem to present a challenge to local democracy and sovereignty while preserving French commercial and political interests in the region. For France, Operation Barkhane will enhance French ability to fend off Chinese commercial and trade challenges and allow France to secure its energy supplies while disrupting terrorist networks and containing the threat from southern Libya.

This article first appeared in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Chad Withdraws from Nothern Mali as Planning for UN Force Begins

Andrew McGregor

April 19, 2013

Chad has begun the withdrawal of its expeditionary force of roughly 2,250 troops from northern Mali as the conflict enters a new stage. According to Chadian president Idris Déby, the “man-to-man fighting” against armed Islamists in the Ifoghas Mountains is over and the Chadian army does not have the ability to conduct operations against guerrilla forces: “Our troops will return to Chad. They have accomplished their mission. We have already withdrawn the heavy support battalion. The remaining elements will return to the country gradually” (TV5 Monde, April 13).

Chad Mali 1France is also intent on withdrawing most of its forces in the region. A draft resolution before the UN Security Council calls for the creation of an 11,000 strong UN peacekeeping force (aided by 1,440 police) that could relieve French forces and assume responsibility for security in Mali by July 1 if major combat operations were completed by that date (AFP, April 15). The new mission will be known as the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). President Déby has indicated that Chad will respond positively if it receives a request from the UN for participation (AFP, April 14). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is said to favor an additional Special Forces formation drawn from a single Western nation (the unspoken preference is France) that would be tasked with counter-terrorism operations in parallel with the operations of the UN peacekeeping mission (Jeune Afrique, April 8).

The UN force would likely absorb the mostly inactive African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), a force largely drawn from states belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). On April 9, a senior Pentagon official warned the existing African intervention force was “completely incapable” and would likely be unable to deter al-Qaeda and its allies from retaking northern Mali once French forces pull out (France24, April 10). Most of the AFISMA units remain in southern Mali due to shortages of transportation, food, equipment and even boots. The troops also lack training in desert warfare, making their deployment highly risky (Jeune Afrique, April 8). EU trainers have begun work in Mali but it is expected to be months before training graduates can take the field. A new UN mission may include a deployment from Burundi, whose troops have been honing their combat skills in battles against Somalia’s al-Shabaab for several years now as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Tensions have been reported in northern Mali’s Kidal region between the Chadians and members of the rebel Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), a largely Tuareg group that guides French forces operating in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains and provides security in Kidal in the absence of regular Malian forces, who are prevented from entering Kidal as the price of the MNLA’s necessary cooperation.  The MNLA suspects the Chadians are encouraging the arrival of Malian regulars to help facilitate their own withdrawal. The Tuareg separatists have warned they will fire on any Malian regulars who approach the Kidal and Tessalit regions where the MNLA still holds sway. An armed confrontation between the Chadians and the Tuareg rebels was reported to have been narrowly averted on April 13 when a Chadian officer ordered his men to avoid provocations as they were confronted by MNLA protestors in front of the Chadian camp (Xinhua, April 16). The MNLA members said they were angered by the panic of Chadian troops who opened fire on civilians in Kidal immediately after a suicide bombing in the Kidal market that killed three of their comrades and injured four others (Sahara Media [Nouakchott], April 13; RFI, April 12; April 13). The blast brought the number of Chadian dead in the French-led military intervention to 36.

Chad Mali 2Chadian Forces in Northern Mali

Chadian claims to have killed al-Qaeda terrorist chieftain Mokhtar Belmokhtar during a battle in the Ametetai Valley on March 2 have yet to be verified in the absence of any evidence, but Chadian claims took an odd turn last week when President Déby explained the AQIM leader’s remains had been destroyed in an explosion: “We have proof of [Belmokhtar’s] death. We couldn’t film it because he blew himself up after the death of [AQIM commander] Abu Zeid. He wasn’t the only one. Three or four other jihadists [also] blew themselves up in despair…” (AFP, April 14; for Chad’s original claim, see Terrorism Monitor Brief, March 8). For the moment, the Chadian claim appears to rest largely on the evidence of prisoners taken in the battle.

Chadian troops remain in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Chadian units tasked with defending the capital of Bangui from Seleka rebels stood down when the rebel force advanced in March, allowing them to seize the capital and engage in a two-day firefight with South African troops the rebels believed were helping to prop up the regime of President François Bozizé.

Bozizé now blames Chad for his downfall and claims his security forces observed 40 Chadian battle-wagons reinforcing the the Seleka rebels who took the CAR capital of Bangui on March 24-25 (RFI, April 4). A Chadian spokesman denied the claims: “No Chadian special forces were in the CAR. It is only in the imagination of Bozizé … He is somebody who was in power for 10 years and did not set up an army that could resist that small rebellion which came to seize power in a few hours” (RFI, April 8). By coincidence or otherwise, Seleka’s battle with the South African military forces in Bangui worked in favor of Chad and France, both of whom felt their traditional influence in the region was threatened by Bozizé’s growing relationship with South African business and government interests.

Asked about perceptions that Chad is using its military strength to become a regional power, Chadian Information and Communication Minister Hassan Silla replied: “We do not have any vision of invading Africa. But today, Chad is solicited by the world as a result of its effectiveness, due to its defense and security forces, which proved their mettle against traffickers and terrorism” (RFI, April 9).

This article was first published in the April 19, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part One – The Rebel Offensive

Andrew McGregor

April 4, 2013

While international attention focuses on efforts to deal with the fallout from Mali’s military collapse and subsequent coup, a rebellion and coup in the Central African Republic (CAR) involving some of the main actors in the Mali crisis (including France and Chad) has garnered less attention, but may have equally important implications for the future of African security efforts, particularly those relying on the declining capabilities of the South African military.

South Africa CARSouth African Dead Return

In a series of skirmishes and battles from March 22 to 24 with a large force of Seleka rebels in the CAR capital of Bangui, a force of roughly 250 South African paratroopers and Special Forces personnel suffered 13 killed and 27 wounded, putting an effective end to the South African military presence in the CAR. The number of prisoners in Seleka hands has not been confirmed, but is rumored to be as high as 40 (SAPA, March 26). In a development similar to one of the grievances that led to last year’s military coup in Mali, South African troops complained of being provided with insufficient ammunition, contributing to their losses in the fighting with rebels (SAPA, April 1). The South Africans’ heaviest weapons appear to have been rocket launchers and 107mm mortars.

The rebel attacks followed the overthrow of President François Bozize and it is believed the rebels were angered by what they perceived as the South Africans’ role in helping Bozize escape the capital. Bozize is reported to have fled to neighboring Cameroon with some members of the Presidential Guard, where he is awaiting news on which African country is prepared to shelter him. One of Seleka’s main demands prior to their capture of Bangui was for the withdrawal of the South African troops, whom they regarded as “mercenaries” preserving the rule of a corrupt ruler.

A group of some 25 South African soldiers were present in Bangui under the terms of a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding in which the SA soldiers would engage in a capacity-building mission to help the CAR with the implementation of a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process designed to absorb former rebels into the Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA) (Sowetan [Johannesburg], March 26). Some of the South African troops in Bangui were deployed to protect what the South African National Defense Union (SANDU), which represents South Africa’s troops, described as South African commercial interests in Bangui (Johannesburg Times, March 27).

Referring to reports that South African president Jacob Zuma ordered the deployment against the advice of Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and senior military staff who were instead urging the withdrawal of the small training mission in Bangui, Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko noted that the CAR was one of the most corrupt states in the world: “The key question that needs to be asked is: why did South Africa need to lose lives to defend this president?” (SAPA, March 27; Business Day Online [Johannesburg], March 26). The opposition has called for a “comprehensive investigation” into the debacle in Bangui, but the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has retorted that this is not the time to score “cheap political points” and has promised that South Africa “will not turn our backs when our neighboring countries need our assistance” (AFP, March 26; link2media [Johannesburg], March 27).

Chadians in CARChadian Troops in Bangui

As the rebels made their final advance on Bangui, France sent an additional 350 troops to the CAR to strengthen the existing force of 250 soldiers (mostly Legionnaires) and protect the roughly 1200 French citizens in Bangui (AFP, March 26; RFI, March 24). The rebel offensive met little resistance from FACA forces and Chadian troops based north of the capital at Damara. Bozize called on Chad for military assistance in early December, but the Chadian troops sent to the CAR did not make a stand against the southwards advance of the Seleka rebels, which was only halted when a peace agreement (the Libreville Accords) was reached in January.

It was Bozize’s failure to implement the accords, particularly the clause relating to integration of former rebels into the CAR military, that led to Seleka’s final march on Bangui. A Seleka spokesman, Colonel Christian Djouma Narkovo, said military resistance collapsed quickly after the rebels entered the capital. The Colonel added that the rebels had clashed three times with the South Africans: “We took their arms and even took prisoners. They laid down their arms and are now in their barracks.” Colonel Narkovo also asked the French and Chadian forces in the capital to assist in bringing a halt to four days of looting and related chaos in Bangui that was fueled by a power blackout and radio silence that began on March 23 (RFI, March 24). Three Chadian soldiers were reported to have been killed in the confused fighting in the capital (RFI, March 24). Two Indian nationals were killed by French troops guarding the Bangui airport when three cars approaching at high speed ignored warning shots (AFP, March 26). The fall of the Bozize government has also forced the suspension of the CAR-based hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony by the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and U.S. Special Forces teams (Daily Monitor [Kampala], April 3; AFP, April 3)

Zuma’s decision to send a force of 400 men to ostensibly guard a group of 25 military trainers who could have easily been otherwise withdrawn can only be interpreted as an effort to bolster the CAR regime. In the end, only 200 troops were actually sent, though they were not provided with air support, medical services, armored personnel carriers, logistical support or an evacuation plan. Since the mission was mounted on a unilateral basis, the South Africans had no-one else to call on if things went bad. Two days after the battle in Bangui the South African Air Force put its Saab Gripen fighter-jets on standby, but the warplanes were reported to lack the weapons needed to carry out an attack (SAPA, March 26). The remaining South African contingent in Bangui remains under French protection in a barracks near the Bangui Airport, where they await an extraction mission by the South African Air Force.

This article was first published in the April 4, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part Two – The Political and Strategic Fallout

Andrew McGregor

April 4, 2013

The motivation of South African president Jacob Zuma for the South African military deployment in Bangui is uncertain; as a South African business website points out, the Central African Republic (CAR) is outside South Africa’s economic sphere of influence as it belongs to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS – chaired by Chadian president Idris Déby) rather than the South African Development Community. Trade between the two nations is virtually non-existent though rumors of South African mining interests in the CAR persist (Business Day Online, March 26).

Martin ZigueleMartin Ziguele

According to CAR opposition leader Martin Ziguele, the head of the Movement for the Liberation of Central African People (MLCAP):

President Jacob Zuma was dragged along into this wasp’s nest mostly by South African businessmen, who were naturally interested in mining activities in Central Africa. They truly dragged President Zuma into, it should be said, a trap. Because all countries in the sub-region had more intimate knowledge than South Africa on Central Africa’s political realities and the conditions for a real exit from the crisis (RFI, March 26).

On March 28, a Johannesburg daily published the detailed results of an investigation into South African business connections with the CAR that began at the same time as the signing of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding regarding defense, minerals and energy that called, in part, for the establishment of a South African military mission in Bangui. The report identified the involvement of a number of high-ranking ANC security and intelligence figures and ANC investment front Chancellor House in an effort to dominate the CAR’s diamond-mining industry. The initiative was arranged by a well-known and controversial “fixer,” Didier Pereira, a business partner of senior ANC security figures Paul Langa and Billy Masetlha, a former head of the South African National Intelligence Agency (NIA) (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], March 28). An ANC statement denied the allegations, claiming the Mail & Guardian was “pissing on the graves of gallant fighters who put their lives on the line in service of our country and our continent” (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], April 1).

It is possible that Bozize’s growing ties with South Africa irritated Chadian president Idris Déby, who had played a major role in installing Bozize as president and had provided his personal bodyguard force until they were withdrawn last December. Bozize has claimed that the attack on the South Africans was led by “Chadian special forces” (BBC, April 3). A force of roughly 400 Chadian troops forms part of the Mission de consolidation de la paix en République Centrafricaine (MICOPAX), an international force drawn from Chad, Gabon, Cameroon and the Congo (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, January 10, 2013). South African defense analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman has noted that “the attacking force was far different from the “rag tag” rebel force originally reported: Most of them in standardized uniforms with proper webbing and with flak jackets, new AK47s and heavy weapons up to 23mm cannons.  It was also clear that many were not from the CAR, some speaking with Chad accents and others having distinctly Arabic features” (Sunday Independent, March 31).

Seleka RebelsSeleka Rebels (AFP)

Shortly before his overthrow, Bozize suggested the rebellion was an externally-fueled attempt to control the CAR’s growing oil industry, alleging the involvement of maverick American oilman Jack Grynberg, who sued the CAR government after his exploration license in the northwestern CAR was revoked by Bozize (Jeune Afrique, October 14, 2011).

Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, a Russian trained economist who lived in the Soviet Union for 14 years, has denied rumors that Seleka was supported by Chad, Gabon or Congo-Brazzaville, saying that it was “simply misery that pushed us into taking up arms” (RFI, March 25). SANDU, the soldiers’ union, has insisted that the South African government has a legal duty to arrange for an ICC indictment of Djotodia after the bodies of child soldiers were discovered among the large numbers of dead rebels after the battle in Bangui (SAPA, April 1) There are signs that Djotodia is settling in for the long-term as the CAR’s ruler; though he has pledged to hold elections in 2016 (when Bozize’s term would have expired), he has also noted: “I did not say that I would hand over power. I said that in three years I will organize free and transparent elections with everyone’s support” (RFI, March 25).

Under heavy pressure from the media and political opposition, South African president Jacob Zuma reversed his intention to keep the battered South African force in the CAR and announced on April 4 that the South African military mission would be withdrawn (AFP, April 4). France may have played a role in the decision by preventing the deployment of a stronger South African force for fear it may lead to an attack on the Bangui airport or French interests in the city (Sunday Independent, March 31). The opposition had called for the withdrawal of a force that was “deployed to defend particular economic interests near the capital on behalf of a corrupt, authoritarian and unpopular government” (Business Day Online [Johannesburg], March 25).

South Africa has traditionally been one of the largest contributors to peacekeeping operations in Africa, with current SANDF deployments in Darfur and the Kivu region of the DRC. Though the South African military remains woefully underfunded, the ANC government continues to use it as an instrument of foreign policy and a means of establishing regional influence. While the South African opposition is demanding the recall of the badly damaged and still unsupported military mission in Bangui, there are rumors that the South African military may now be planning a retaliation in order to defend the reputation and future safety of SANDF troops, potentially expanding a conflict whose true motives are known only to the senior South African leadership. The struggle for control of the CAR is further evidence of the growing military and political influence of Chad in Africa, working at times (as in Mali) in partnership with France. The current decline of South Africa and Nigeria as Africa’s military powerhouses also suggests major shifts are ongoing in Africa’s regional balance of power.

This article was first published in the April 4, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

 

Chad and Niger: France’s Military Allies in Northern Mali

Andrew McGregor

Aberfoyle International Security Special Report – February 15, 2013

As the long-promised ECOWAS/African Union intervention force cools its hells behind the lines in Mali, experienced desert fighters from Chad and Niger have stepped into the breach, operating side-by-side with the French in retaking northern Mali from the Islamists and now mounting search operations for Islamists hiding in the sun-baked mountains of Kidal region. With a total contribution of nearly 2,500 men (2,000 from Chad), the contingents from Chad and Niger provide a significant boost to combat capability of the French force of 4,000 troops. Back in Bamako, the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) continues to be assembled piecemeal from troops arriving from seven West African countries.

Chadian Troops on the Move in Northern Mali   (BBC)

Chadian Troops on the Move in Northern Mali (BBC)

Some 1800 Chadian troops have been joined in in the northern city of Kidal by several hundred soldiers from neighboring Niger who have been attached to the Chadian group since it passed through Niger to enter northern Mali from the south. These troops are now carrying out search-and-destroy operations to eliminate armed Islamists thought to be hiding in the caves of the Adar des Ifoghas mountains of north-eastern Mali. The Chadians are guided by local Tuareg belonging to al-Hajj ag-Gamou’s pro-government militia or the separatist Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), the group that began the civil war in Mali over a year ago but was displaced by their former Tuareg Islamist allies in Ansar al-Din. Air support is provided by France, which has carried out scores of bombing runs in the region. So far, however, there seem to have been few contacts of any significance with Islamists in the region, many of whom may have already slipped across the international borders into Mauritania, Algeria, Libya or Niger. French reports describe their targets in the mountains as “mostly logistical depots and training centers” (AFP, February 5). The military intelligence chief of the Chadian deployment, Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahim Idriss, has identified the Chadian advantage in pursuing the Islamists: “We are Muslims like them, so we understand their ideology and we don’t fear them” (McClatchy Newspapers, February 8).

Chad-MaliChadian Troops in Mali (Reuters)

The Chadians spent several days in Menaka before heading north to Kidal. On the evening of February 8, Chadian and French forces entered the isolated garrison town of Aguel Hoc, scene of a rebel massacre of government troops in January, 2012.  The next day, the Chadians and French seized Tessalit and entered Kidal, which had already fallen under the control of the MNLA, who successfully demanded that Malian troops be excluded from the occupying force as a condition of turning over control of the city. The Kidal airstrip had already been taken by the French on January 29.

After the French and Malian troops failed to secure the homes of leading Islamists who had fled Gao and Timbuktu, leading to the loss of large quantities of important documents to looters and curious journalists, French and Chadian searches in Kidal are reported to have yielded large quantities of arms as well as a wealth of useful documents such as passports and lists of fighters. Telephone chips and computers found in Kidal have been sent on for analysis (RFI, February 5).

Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno, as then-commander-in-chief of the Chadian military, cooperated closely with French intelligence, Foreign Legion and air support units in the 1986-87 “Toyota War” that forced Libyan forces out of Chad permanently. The highly-mobile tactics developed by Déby and others in that war continue to characterize Chadian operations and have become the model for many insurgent groups and some government forces operating in the Sahara/Sahel region. The Chadian deployment in Mali is under the command of Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno.

Déby’s commitment of a substantial number of his best troops to the Mali intervention demonstrates the president’s confidence in his political control of Chad, his elimination of insurgent threats and the steady improvement of relations with neighboring Sudan that followed the 2010 rapprochement. Prior to that, both Khartoum and N’Djamena were engaged in a proxy war in which each side supported rebel movements inside their rival’s territory. Both regimes were nearly toppled in the process, but now there are plans to build a Qatari-financed road to tie the two countries. There is also a small French military base in N’Djamena with a pair of French fighter-jets and some 200 Legionnaires; it is not impossible that some type of guarantees were given by Paris regarding the preservation of the Déby regime in an emergency while his best troops are deployed in Mali.

Nonetheless, the Chadian capital of N’Djamena has been on a war footing since joining the Malian intervention. Dozens of suspects have been arrested as the Mobile Police Intervention Group carries out multiple patrols, identity checks and vehicle searches. A report citing an anonymous diplomatic source claimed 500 members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram had entered the capital, but this report was quickly denied by a Chadian government spokesman (Jeune Afrique, February 13; Radio France Internationale, February 14).

Chadian forces are also present in the Central African Republic (CAR), which they entered in mid-December 2012 to prop up the regime of President François Bozizé against the Seleka coalition of rebels marching on the capital of Bangui.

Niger, which has faced a series of rebellions from Tuareg rebels with loose connections to Tuareg rebels in Mali, has no wish to see the MNLA legitimized for fear separatist success in Mali will revive the relatively dormant Tuareg independence movement in Niger. Nigérien President Mahamadou Issoufou recently stated: “The MNLA is not representative of the Tuareg people in Mali. It represents a tiny minority” (Le Monde, February 4).  There is no doubt Issoufou is uncomfortable seeing his troops working side-by-side with the Tuareg separatists of the MNLA, but he has no more influence on the composition of the counterterrorist force than does Bamako, which has issued arrest warrants for the MNLA leaders that have been ignored by the French and their allies in Kidal.

Chadian Troops in Mali with Armored Personnel Carriers

Chadian Troops in Mali with Armored Personnel Carriers

According to documents said to have been seized by French forces in Mali, Niger was designated to be the site of the second phase of the Islamists’ plan to create an Islamic Emirate in the Sahara/Sahel region (al-Khabar [Algiers], February 13).  Issoufou confirmed that French Special Forces have moved in to protect Niger’s uranium industry facililties from an In Aménas-style attack. Most of the uranium produced in Niger is destined for French energy and military uses. Niger has enormous, largely unguarded borders with northern Mali, and has taken a strategic decision to take the fight to the Islamists even though this commitment will decrease the number of men available to maintain the security of Niger’s 500 mile border with Mali. Niger’s desert units are well-experienced and normally contain a number of former Tuareg rebels who have been re-integrated into Niger’s military, though it is unclear whether such individuals form part of the present deployment. Nonetheless, the Nigérien army is small and underfunded, leaving the president to seek military protection where he can. When a U.S. diplomat asked Issoufou on January 28 if Niger would be willing to host a U.S. surveillance drone base, the offer was accepted immediately (Reuters, January 29).

The Chadian deployment in Mali comes in stark contrast to that of Nigeria, which leads the AFISMA mission but has so far only managed to field under 300 of the 1,200 man deployment promised by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. Many of the men appear to have arrived without arms, preventing their deployment in most tasks, and morale has suffered from food shortages. In their search for provisions, officers and men are reported to be resorting to “courtesy calls” on local leaders who are then expected to “return the call,” usually with a large gift of food (Premium Times [Lagos], February 12).  Despite government claims of a fighting advance into northern Mali, Nigerian troops have yet to move out of Bamako. The deployment is highly unpopular in Nigeria, where many citizens worry the intervention will only provide new opportunities for vast sums of money to be siphoned from the national treasury. There are also critics who suggest that the army should finish dealing with the Boko Haram threat inside Nigeria before it engages in foreign adventures. Nigerian troops are already deployed abroad in Darfur with the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (still using the former acronym UNAMID). With AFISMA largely designed to be built around a Nigerian core, there seems little chance that the other West African contingents arriving in Bamako will see the front-lines any time soon. In a way they served as a diversion in the southwest while the real African combat group entered Mali from the southeast.

Central Africa’s Tribal Marauder: A Profile of Fulani Insurgency Leader General Abdel Kader Baba Ladde

Andrew McGregor

April 2012

Operating from deep in the ungoverned bush of the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), a poorly educated Fulani tribesman from southern Chad leads a rebel movement of several hundred men that claims to be both a Fulani self-defense militia and an armed movement set on bringing democracy to Chad and the CAR. Led by the self-appointed “General” Abdel Kader Baba Laddé, the Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR) is regarded by many as little more than a bandit group with a political veneer despite its broad ambitions.

General Abdel Kader Baba Laddé

The 42-year-old Baba Laddé hails from the Mayo-Kebbi region of southwestern Chad, near the borders with Cameroon and Nigeria. A former non-commissioned officer in the Chadian army, Baba Laddé promoted himself to the rank of general after leaving the army and forming a rebel group to overthrow the government of President Idris Déby. Baba Laddé is not a man of minor ambitions, however, and in addition to overthrowing the leader of Chad he also proclaims his desire to unite all members of the scattered Fulani tribe from Mauritania to the Sudan (Jeune Afrique, December 26, 2011).

“General” Laddé’s lightly armed militia was unable to maintain a presence in Chad in the face of a government offensive in 2008 and crossed the border into the northern regions of the CAR, a lawless area that has become home to all manner of bandits, rebels and coupeurs de routes (highwaymen).  Baba Laddé eventually made his headquarters in the market town of Kaga-Bondoro, 245 km north of the capital of Bangui. Lying just south of the border with Chad, the wilds of the Ubangi-Shari region (as the CAR was known during the French colonial period) have traditionally provided shelter to a variety of Chadian renegades. Parts of this region were severely depopulated by slavers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a calamity from which the region has never completely recovered.

A recent petition of leading citizens of the affected areas demanding government action against the “exactions” of Baba Laddé and his inclusion in an international list of war criminals cited various crimes carried out by the FPR, including looting, rape, mutilation, the displacement of thousands of people, the assassination of international aid staff and the kidnapping of children for use as child-soldiers. The movement has also been accused of being sympathetic to the goals of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). [1]

 

Baba Laddé’s sympathizers (who appear to be few in number) suggest that, unlike the other marauding rebel/bandit groups in the CAR, the FPR is popular with local people due to its dedication to peace and security but has fallen victim to a malevolent press allegedly in the pay of CAR President François Bozize that hold Baba Laddé “responsible for all the ills of the CAR.” [2] When asked to respond to claims that the “General” was keeping order in the areas under his control, the President replied: “But who authorized him to do so? Who asked him?” (Jeune Afrique, February 9). In reality the FPR raises much of its funds by “taxing” Fulani herders driving their cattle through the northern CAR (Centrafrique-Presse, December 19, 2011). Extortion of local communities, cattle theft and revenues from raiding provide most of the rest (IRIN, January 12). As well as recruiting from the Fulani community, the FPR welcomes local bandits and former members of the dozen or so rebel movements operating in the northern CAR. Weapons are acquired from across the Sudan border in Darfur, where they are found in abundance after years of warfare. N’Djamena has tried to avoid giving the RPF any political legitimacy – the Chadian Ministry of Information and Communications recently asserted that there are no Chadian rebels in the CAR, only “criminals and zaraguinas [highway robbers]” (AFP, February 14).

The Fulani

The Fulani, most of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic cattle-herders, are found in a wide sub-Saharan belt stretching from Guinea-Conakry and Mauritania in West Africa to Sudan, Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the east. The Fulani use a Niger-Congo language known variously as Pulaar or Fulfulde. Due to their wide dispersion across Africa, the Fulani are known by many names, including Fula, Fulbe and Peul.

The Fulani’s pursuit of a pastoral lifestyle at a time of increasing environmental pressures has frequently brought them into conflict with more sedentary communities. In northern Mali the Fulani herdsmen are often in conflict with the Tuareg and Arab nomads of the region and are closely associated with the Ganda Koy/Ganda Iso “self-defense” militias (see Terrorism Monitor, April 20). In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has suggested that the Fulani community is composed of West Africans who have no right to vote in Sudan (Sudan Tribune, November 1, 2008).

In northern Ghana, the Fulani herders are regarded as foreign intruders who abduct women, engage in unregulated cross-border trade and destroy local agriculture. Northern farmers have appealed to the government for help in eliminating the “menace of alien Fulani herdsmen,” though they are not beyond taking matters into their own hands; in early January there were reports that local residents had burned down the shelters of over 100 Fulani families and looted all their cattle (Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, January 11; GhanaWeb, April 14).

In Nigeria the Fulani became closely tied to the Hausa following the invasion of the Hausa lands by Uthman Dan Fodio’s Fulani jihadists in 1804-1810. They are thus known as the Hausa-Fulani today, and represent nearly 30% of the population in Nigeria. Clashes between sedentary agricultural communities and the Fulani have become common (especially in those Nigerian states bordering Cameroon) as the Fulani have begun moving their herds into territories out of the traditional range of the herders. The situation closely resembles the movement of Arab herders in Darfur into agricultural lands maintained by indigenous African tribes that helped spark the Darfur crisis in 2003:

  • In Nigeria’s Nasarawa State, some 18 people were killed in recent clashes between local residents and gunmen reported to be well-armed Fulani tribesmen dressed entirely in black, though the State’s governor expressed doubt over the participation of the Fulani in the attacks (Nigerian Tribune, April 7).
  • In Benue State, over 3,600 Fulani nomads were forced to take refuge in temporary IDP camps in neighboring Cross River State after a series of clashes with local farmers. Howevwer, new problems arose when Fulani cattle began grazing on farmland in Cross River State (Nigerian Tribune, April 11; The Nation [Lagos], April 11).
  • Six villages were reported to have been razed by men believed to be Fulani raiders in Taraba State on April 4. A small patrol of soldiers from the 93rd Battalion engaged a large body of raiders in the early hours of the morning, suffering the loss of two soldiers (Nation [Lagos], April 5; Leadership [Lagos], April 5).

The great Fulani jihad leaders of the 19th century appear to have provided the inspiration for a recently formed offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) known as Jamaat Tawhid wa’l-Jihad fi Garbi Afriqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – MOJWA). With a leadership consisting of West African Muslims rather than North African Arabs, the movement has cited the examples of ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal and Amadou Cheikou, whose massive armies fought animists, fellow Muslims and Christian imperialists alike to form their own short-lived empires in West Africa.

Abduction and Deportation to Chad

In September, 2009 Baba Laddé agreed to talks with Chadian government representatives in Bangui under the mediation of the CAR government. The FPR leader appeared ready to sign on to the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration process (DDR) process already signed on to by a number of rebel movements, but first demanded a personal apology from the Chadian president to Mbororo (a Fulani sub-group) cattle herders for attacks allegedly carried out by Chadian military forces. Baba Laddé also suggested it “would be judicious” for the Chadian president to provide the FPR with logistics, food and financial compensation to prepare the group for their return to Chad (Le Confident [Bangui], September 22, 2009). Supposedly under the protection of MICOPAX peacekeepers during negotiations in the CAR capital, the FPR leader disappeared on October 9, 2009 on his way to the CAR Defense Ministry. [3]

Angered by clashes between the FPR and Chadian forces along the CAR’s northern border, the CAR government had apparently decided to solve the Baba Laddé’ problem by quietly extraditing him to Chad in an operation allegedly planned by Colonel Mila Allafi Tanga, the Chadian military attaché at the Chadian Embassy in Bangui (Centrafrique-Presse, December 19, 2011, Le Confident [Bangui], October 13; October 15; October 22). MICOPAX claimed it had no involvement in the abduction and extradition and later sent a mission to N’Djamena to ascertain his location and condition (Le Confident [Bangui], November 15).

The Front Islamique Tchadien (FIT – Chadian Islamic Front), an insurgent group that also promotes Fulani solidarity, threatened to launch a jihad against Bangui unless Baba Laddé was released (L’Hirondelle [Bangui], October 13, 2009; for the FIT, see Terrorism Focus Brief, July 16, 2008). The FIT also claims to have sent some of its members to the CAR to organize “vigilante” groups amongst the Chadian herders “under threat” in the northern CAR. [4]

In November, 2009 panic was created in the Kaga Bandoro region when the FPR was attacked by Jean-Jacques Démafouth’s Armée Populaire pour la Restauration de la Démocratie (APRD), a much stronger militia whose area of operations overlaps that of the FPR in the Kaga-Bondoro region (Le Confident [Bangui], November 3, 2009). The APRD has since declared that it would only join the DDR process if the FPR returned to Chad (IRIN, January 12).

Baba Laddé was not seen again until August, 2010 when he surfaced in Cameroon, claiming to have escaped ten months of torture in N’Djamena. Baba Laddé then disappeared again in November, 2010, turning up in the CAR in January, 2011 (AFP, April 19, 2011).

The CAR – A Permanent State of Instability

A CAR-based UN representative, Margaret Vogt, told the UN Security Council last December that the CAR was “on the brink of disaster” due to its inability to find $22 million to pursue the DDR process. Vogt also demanded that Baba Laddé  be held accountable for his human rights violations against the people of the CAR (UN News Center, December 14, 2011). It has been alleged locally that Baba Laddé has supporters within the CAR government, most notably Minister for Livestock Youssoufa Yerima Mandjo, a fellow Peul-Fulani (Centrafrique-Presse, December 19, 2011; January 6).

Baba Laddé signed a peace agreement with Chadian representatives in Bangui on June 13, 2011, telling national radio: “I think we have put a final end to the hostilities” (AFP, June 14, 2011). However, by this time it appeared that Baba Laddé had begun to lose interest in Chad as expanding his influence in the CAR became more appealing than a return to his homeland (Centrafrique Matin [Bangui], December 23, 2011).

Baba Laddé’s forces clashed in January, 2012 with the Front Démocratique du People Centrafricaine (FDPC) led by Abdoulaye Miskine (real name Martin Koumta-Madji), another Chadian adventurer who once provided security for former CAR President Ange-Felix Patassé, overthrown in 2003 by Bozizé, his former army chief-of-staff.   In November, 2008 Miskine’s men ambushed a Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA) patrol, killing nine soldiers.  President Bozizé has close ties with the Déby regime and came to power with the assistance of the Chadian military. Chadians are well represented in the Garde Républicaine (responsible for the president’s security), the only reasonably equipped branch of the security forces. The Guard is otherwise made up of members of Bozizé’s Gbaya tribe, who protect the president from the army, which is largely composed of members of the Yakoma tribe. Since the army is only sporadically paid and is generally alienated from its own commanders, it tends to act as yet another predatory force rather than a savior when dealing with civilians outside the capital, the only region that can honestly be said to be under FACA’s control. France maintains a small garrison of 150 to 200 men in Bangui that can be quickly supplemented by the Force d’Action Rapide to protect French citizens and interests in times of crisis.

Chad and the CAR began joint operations against the FPR in the region north of Kaga Bandaro in late January (Journal de Bangui, January 24). Chadian helicopters worked in concert with ground forces of both nations in attempting a pincer movement to trap and eliminate Baba Laddé’s group, though this strategy appears to have failed due to the movement’s habit of dispersing itself in small groups of fighters over a large area. Nonetheless, heavy fighting was reported and the joint forces claimed to have smashed the FPR’s command post north of Kaga Bandaro (AFP, January 26; Journal de Bangui, January 30).

In response to the joint offensive against the RPF, Laddé declared that he considered the CAR’s position to be “a declaration of war by [President] François Bozizé” and announced the formation of a new anti-Bozizé political movement, the Parti Pour la Justice et le Développement (PJD), with a military wing going by the name of the Forces Armées Révolutionnaires de Centrafrique (FARCA) (Radio France Internationale, January 28). According to the founding communiqué, PJD-FARCA was in discussions with three other movements to overthrow the Bozizé “dictatorship,” these being the aforementioned APRD, the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et al Paix (CPJP) and the Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Rassemblement (UFDR). Some of these groups, however, have signed a ceasefire agreement with Bangui and none have reported forming an alliance with the FPR or PJD-FARCA. The statement also called on all members of the Central African armed forces to desert and join FARCA (Le Jour [Conakry], January 27). In one of his grander moments, Baba Laddé also suggested an alliance between the Fulani, the Tuareg, the ethnic-Somali rebels of Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, the Sahrawi Polisario and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Jeune Afrique, December 26, 2011). On February 14, the FPR announced it had captured 27 FACA soldiers and added that it was sending a detachment of FPR fighters to reinforce rebel groups in the mainly Tubu Tibesti region of northern Chad, though there is no evidence this actually happened. [5]

In Defense of Rebellion

On March 12, Baba Laddé issued an extraordinary “Appeal to the Defenders of Human Rights,” a document that revealed much of the inflated self-view of the “General,” beginning with the regal tone of the opening line: “I am the General Baba Laddé and I have decided to take up my pen to inform the world of two very important things.” [6] Laddé began with an appeal for human rights organizations to secure the release of the “many members of my family and families of my fighters” who were arrested in the CAR and Chad. Baba Laddé then announced that the FPR and PJF-FARCA have decided to launch a call for peace negotiations under the auspices of the UN. The proposed international peace conference would gather representatives of “the CAR, Chad, all political and military movements of Chad and Central Africa, the legal opposition parties, representatives of neighboring states of both countries, including Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Sudan, as well as representatives of states conducting military operations in both countries: France, the United States and Uganda.” Representative of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) could also attend, provided the latter dismissed Joseph Kony and other leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Baba Laddé warned his movement “will be obliged to resume the armed struggle to establish democracy” in Chad and the CAR should it not receive a positive reply to this proposal by May 1.

Baba Laddé was also disturbed by remarks made in a March interview by former Burundian president and current African Union mediator Pierre Buyoya, who expressed surprise that a well-known “bandit and coupeur de route” like Baba Laddé now had political policies and suggested that the FPR leader might be manipulated by external forces (Jeune Afrique, March 16). In his response, Baba Laddé asked if “a Black, an African cannot have political ideas without being manipulated by an external power? Or is this [just] Chadians or Fulani who cannot have an opinion? Or is it because I’m not from a middle-class [background] and have not done studies abroad? And yes, a poor Chadian Fulani may have a political opinion” (Press-FPR, March 21).

In the same statement, Baba Laddé then went on to describe his “political discourse,” a far-ranging Qaddafi-esque platform that included democracy for Chad and the CAR, the abandonment of a “genocide” against Nigerians under the guise of fighting Boko Haram, peace negotiations between all parties in Mali, justice for “atrocities” against the Fulani in Guinea-Conakry, equality between blacks and Moors in Mauritania and between Arabs and Tubu in Libya, condemnation of the “crimes” of Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Syria, support for the independence of the Angolan province of Cabinda, an end to torture in Ethiopia and a request for Israel to cease bombing in Gaza. The FPR commander went on to express his wish to fight Joseph Kony’s LRA (which operates in the southern CAR), an oft-expressed desire that is never transformed into action but serves to deflect attention from the activities of his own men in the northern CAR. Baba Laddé wrapped up his message by informing his opponents that:  “Despite the threats, the FPR and the PJD will continue to fight the dictatorship of Déby and Bozizé. And if you want peace, you must negotiate with us, the lower people.”

Notes

  1. “Collectif á Lingbi Awe Baba Laddé Tous Contre les Exactions de Baba Ladde en Centrafrique,” January 5, 2012, published by Centrafrique Press, January 16, 2012.
  2. http://makaila.over-blog.com/article-bozize-et-deby-ont-conspire-contre-le-fpr-il-va-de-notre-interet-de-tendre-la-main-aux-groupes-reb-98342951.html.
  3. The Mission de consolidation de la paix en République Centrafricaine (MICOPAX) is a peacekeeping operation led by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), formed by Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the CAR, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and São Tomé and Príncipe. With a strength of just over 500 troops and training from French military advisers, MICOPAX attempts to restore security to regions of the northwest CAR plagued by roving zaraguinas.
  4. “Protégeons les tchadiens en RCA,” April 10, 2010. http://frontislamiquetchadien.blogspot.ca/2010/04/protegeons-les-tchadiens-en-rca.html ,
  5. Press Release, PJD-FARCA, Cellule de Communication du Front Populaire pour le Redressement (FPR), ChariNews, February 14, 2012.
  6. http://makaila.over-blog.com/article-rca-tchad-l-appel-du-general-baba-ladde-101447598.html

This article was first published in the April, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Chadian Regime and Rebels Alike Welcome Talk of Ending French Military Presence

Andrew McGregor

July 14, 2011

Indications from Paris that France may be ready to bring an end to Opération Épervier, its 25-year-old military mission in Chad, have been welcomed by both the government of President Idriss Déby and General Mahamat Nouri, commander of one of Chad’s leading rebel movements. The French mission has both a land and air component and is based in two places; the airport at the capital of N’Djamena in the west and Abéché (former capital of the Sultanate of Wadai) in the east. Three Mirage 2000 jet fighters form part of the mission as do roughly 1,000 troops, mostly of the French Foreign Legion.