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.

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.

French Foreign Legion Unit in Chad

During talks with Chad in Paris on July 5, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested that there was no longer any reason for France to continue keeping roughly 1,000 French troops in Chad. A senior official of the Chadian Foreign Ministry said N’Djamena had no objections: “Chad is prepared to begin negotiations with French authorities as early as next week… Épervier has been in Chad for 25 years. It is time to review this structure to adapt to the current context” (AFP, July 6).

General Mahamat Nouri, the leader of the rebel Alliance nationale pour le changement démocratique (ANCD) said he was “very pleased” with the remarks of the French Foreign Minister, acknowledging that the rebels “would probably be in power were it not for the French troops.” The general also hailed what he described as the French “determination to pursue a transparent, credible foreign policy in line with its historical and cultural values” (AFP, July 6). Nouri, along with other Chadian rebel leaders living in Sudan, was expelled to Doha last year after the rapprochement between N’Djamena and Khartoum.

Chad was formed as a territory of France after the conquest of a number of small sultanates and the expulsion of the Libyan Sanusis in the early years of the 20th century. The territory eventually gained independence in 1960, though economic and security ties with France remained strong.

  1. Foreign Legion BiltineOperation Épervier: 2e régiment étranger de parachutistes ( 2e REP) at Biltine, Chad

Opération Épervier (Sparrowhawk) began in 1986 to supply French military assistance to the regime of Hissène Habré when the Libyan army tried to seize the uranium-rich Aouzou Strip in northern Chad. When General Déby overthrew the increasingly brutal Habré in 1990 the French mission did not interfere. Habré fled to Senegal where he remained safe since Senegal had no law regarding “crimes against humanity” on its books and also wanted to avoid the considerable cost involved in trying a former head-of-state for the murders of over 40,000 individuals. Senegal recently decided to extradite Habré to Chad but reversed itself at the urging of UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, who warned  Habré could be tortured if returned to Chad. Belgium has now offered to try Habré under its “universal competence” law (Reuters, July 11; AFP, July 11).

Much has changed in Chad since 2008, when Déby and his loyalists fought off a Sudanese-supported rebel invasion in the streets of N’Djamena with intelligence and logistical assistance from the French military. Deby’s new confidence no doubt arises from the pact he signed with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, in which both sides pledged to end their proxy war along the Chad-Sudan border. Though such pacts have collapsed in the past, this time Sudan is likely to be consumed by its own internal problems for a considerable time following the independence of South Sudan. Déby has also worked to fortify N’Djamena to prevent a repeat of the 2008 rebel assault. A three-meter deep trench has been built around the city to force all traffic to enter through fortified gateways. Many of N’Djamena’s trees have also been cut down to prevent rebels from using them to block roads (Reuters, March 3, 2008; BBC, March 4, 2008).

During last August’s celebration of 50 years of Chadian independence, Déby suggested it was time to begin charging France for maintaining a military presence in Chad. According to the President, Operation Epervier no longer played a role in Chad aside from “providing some healthcare for the sick and logistical support in case of an attack somewhere… We have no defense accord with France. And the presence of Épervier has nothing to do with our independence or our sovereignty. Épervier is not here to help or support a government or a regime.” (Le Figaro, August 26, 2010).

Déby may face new security challenges in northern Chad, where a trade system based on supplies from Libya has broken down, causing severe shortages of many commodities in the region (Le Monde, July 7). There are some 70,000 Chadian workers who have been expelled from Libya due to the civil war as well as fears of arms reaching Chadian insurgents and criminals from uncontrolled weapons depots in Libya.

There is also speculation that Déby is seeking to replace the historical relationship with France with a less intrusive economic partnership with China. Ties with China have been steadily increasing since 2006 and the China National Petroleum Corporation has just started operations at a joint venture oil refinery outside of N’Djamena (Xinhua, July 1).

In a related development, a French court has found four men guilty of “robbery leading to death without intention to kill” in the death of Déby’s son, Brahim Déby. A resident of Paris with previous convictions for drugs and weapons possession, Brahim Déby was attacked with a taser gun and covered in fire extinguisher foam in a 2007 robbery that prosecutors said had no political connection (Le Monde, July 7; Radio France Internationale, July 8).

This article was originally published in the July 14, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

The Triangle of Death: Central Africa’s New Hub of Regional Instability

Andrew McGregor

December 16, 2010

As peacekeepers pull out of a notorious and remote corner of Africa known as the “Triangle of Death,” bands of gunmen are pouring in to fill the void in security. At the core of this problem is a former French colony that became a nation-state despite a lack of viability and is now rapidly collapsing, offering guerrillas, terrorists and outlaws a relatively risk-free haven to conduct their operations.

Birao 1(BBC)


A land-locked nation of 4.4 million people, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries on earth. As Oubangui-Chari, it was part of the French African Empire from the late 19th century to 1960, when it gained independence as the Central African Republic (CAR). The region’s pre-independence leader, Barthelmy Boganda, did not believe the CAR could become a viable independent state and instead sought to make it part of an envisioned “United States of Latin Africa,” uniting the former Central African colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain. Boganda and his dream of a united Central Africa died shortly before independence when his plane exploded in 1959. Agriculture dominates the local economy, though there are a number of unexploited resource reserves.  Forestry and diamond mining account for most of the CAR’s slim export revenue. France protects its interests and citizens in Bangui with an infantry company of 200 legionnaires belonging to the 2e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie.

The CAR is best known in the West for the antics and atrocities of its former ruler, “Emperor” Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a former captain in the French Colonial Army who squandered the nation’s meager wealth in ruling the re-named “Central African Empire” in an imperial style from 1966 to 1979.  In recent years the political violence in the CAR has become closely tied to violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

Battle for Birao

On November 24, rebels belonging to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), supported by fighters formerly belonging to Chadian rebel movements, took the strategically important town of Birao and captured its military commander after a short battle with troops of the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) (AFP, November 24). The rebels had previously attacked Birao in July. The CPJP began operations in 2009 and since then has seized a number of towns and villages in the CAR’s northeast (BBC, November 27, 2009). Rebels claimed the defeated FACA troops belonged to the Presidential Guard, the only CAR military unit of any real worth (AFP, November 25).

Heavy rains prevented CAR forces from returning to the town after it was seized, though most of the country’s best troops were busy in the capital of Bangui preparing for the December 1 military parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the independence of the CAR. On taking Birao, CPJP head of operations Abdoulaye Issene declared, “We have seized 48 prisoners and recovered a big stock of weapons. Birao is taken, but our target is Bangui” (Reuters, November 24).

Units of Chad’s military based in Abéché crossed the border with the CAR in late November on their way to Birao. A CPJP statement described a Chadian force including tanks and helicopters that began to bomb Birao, forcing the evacuation of the rebels on November 30. Chad’s army chief-of-staff, General Alain Mbaidodenande Djionadji, told reporters, “We affirm that the Chadian Army has exercised its right of pursuit by destroying the remaining mercenaries who have involved themselves with unidentified adventurers who were holed up in Birao” (AFP, November 30; Reuters, December 1). The town’s population of 8,000 was forced to spend a week in the bush without water, food or shelter. Food stocks kept in the town were looted during the fighting, leaving nothing for returnees (IRIN, December 7).

In a belated attempt to assert sovereignty in the area, CAR government spokesmen were quick to claim the retaking of Birao as a victory for the FACA, saying 65 rebels had been killed in the battle. According to CAR spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika, CAR troops had retaken the town without the help of foreign forces, “contrary to the mendacious allegations” broadcast by foreign media sources (AFP, December 2). This declaration ran contrary to statements from both the Chadian military and the CPJP.

The former leader of the CPJP was Charles Massi, the minister of mines and agriculture in the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé, who was supported by Libyan troops and 300 Congolese rebels under Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Massi took to the bush after Patassé’s government was overthrown in 2003 by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR.  After being arrested by Chadian authorities, Massi is believed to have died in January 2010 after extensive torture at the Central African prison of Bossembélé. President Bozizé has close ties with the Chadian regime of Idriss Déby and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Chad supplies many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the CAR armed forces.

The Peacekeepers Depart

A UN peacekeeping mission, the Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), has provided security along the borders of Chad, Darfur and the CAR since 2007. The severely underfunded and undermanned mission has roughly 1,500 uniformed military and police personnel drawn from 35 nations under the military command of Senegal’s Major-General Elhadji Mouhamedou Kandji. The military component of the force was authorized to succeed operations of the European Union’s EUFOR Tchad/RCA, a peacekeeping force of 3,700 troops under the command of Ireland’s Lieutenant General Patrick Nash. The majority of the force came from France, with Ireland and Poland also making major contributions. EUFOR Tchad/RCA ended operations in March 2009. Birao was the site of a small EUFOR Tchad/RCA base during the EU deployment.

The decision to withdraw MINURCAT came in May after Chad said it would assume responsibility for security in its territory after criticizing MINURCAT’s slow deployment and apparent inability to provide security for civilians. Though the peacekeepers had little effect in the northeastern CAR due to small numbers and a limited mandate that prevented them from tackling local bandits, their full withdrawal (scheduled for December 31, though operations ended on October 15) will leave security in the region solely in the hands of the CAR armed forces, which has very little presence in the area. Most of the army, including its best-equipped troops, is kept in the capital of Bangui as protection for the regime against coups, insurrections or civil unrest. President Bozizé is also believed to oppose the presence of international peacekeepers in the CAR, preferring instead to seek financial support for the expansion of the CAR’s armed forces. At the moment, the president cannot count on the complete loyalty of his poorly-equipped army. There are reports of disobedience and refusals by some troops to deploy to dangerous areas of the country, leading to purges of disloyal soldiers (Centrafrique Presse, March 24, March 29; Radio Ndeke Luka [Bangui], March 26).

In the absence of MINURCAT, a military protocol was signed between Bangui and Khartoum to create a joint border patrol to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels in the region. The Sudanese component includes former Darfur rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) under the command of Minni Minawi, who joined the government in 2006 (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The “Triangle of Death”

Between 1850 and 1910 most of what is today the northeastern part of the CAR was largely depopulated by immense slave raids carried out by the Sultans of Dar Kuti, Dar Wadai and Dar Baguirmi.  Though it was no longer called slavery, French colonial forces continued the tradition of forced labor in the 20th century. Birao remains highly isolated from the rest of the CAR (which has less than 500 km of paved roads) and has even been used as a place of internal exile. The town changed hands several times in 2006-2007 in fighting between the rebel Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity – UFDR) and CAR troops backed by French forces stationed in Bangui. After the negotiation of a peace agreement with the UFDR, Birao was occupied by EUFOR Tchad/RCA troops, succeeded by a MINURCAT detachment, which turned the town over to the FACA on November 15.

Birao 2Forces Armées Centrafricaines Soldier in Birao – note row of amulets worn on his lanyard.

Today, nearly three million displaced people live in the triangle formed by the borders of Sudan, Chad and the CAR. Without government control, civilians of the region have suffered widespread abuses at the hands of roving gangs of gunmen with or without political pretensions who replenish their ranks, labor force and harems by abducting children. Development of the CAR’s northeast has been ignored by successive CAR governments, most of which have concerned themselves solely with enriching members of the regime and their tribal supporters. The government has attempted to farm out security by raising and backing local vigilante groups, but even these have posed a threat to local security. An estimated 30,000 refugees from Sudan and the DRC are present in the CAR, many dwelling in the bush far from humanitarian relief.

The collapse of the Chadian insurgency after its Sudanese sponsors negotiated a peace agreement with N’Djamena left a large number of well-armed fighters looking for new bases in the CAR rather than returning to Chad to take advantage of an amnesty. After most of the leaders of the Darfur-based Chadian insurgent groups were expelled by Khartoum to Doha, these groups quickly deteriorated into undisciplined and leaderless gangs. Among those believed to be heading to the CAR are fighters from the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) under the command of Adam Yacoub (Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The Lord’s Resistance Army

An ongoing and seemingly irresolvable security threat in the region is posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old insurgent group that has gradually morphed into a loosely organized terror-spreading group that has no other ideology other than ensuring its continued existence through rape, murder, kidnapping, looting and torture. The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), but has long ceased any pretense of representing the Acholi community.

Since the failure of the U.S. supported Ugandan military operation “Lightning Thunder” in December 2008 (which split the LRA into a number of different groups rather than eliminate it), the movement has continued its depredations in southwest Sudan, the CAR and the northeastern DRC. In the last two years the LRA has killed over 2,000 people in the CAR’s northeast and abducted thousands more. Though LRA leader Joseph Kony no longer has effective control of his scattered fighters, his divided movement continues to carry out atrocities and abductions under various sub-commanders. Units of the LRA attacked Birao in October, looting shops and abducting women (AFP, November 24).

CAR Defense Minister Jean-François Bozizé, nephew of President François Bozizé, has denounced LRA atrocities in the nation, including “incursions, pillage, massacres, rapes, hostage takings and villages that are systematically burned down,” while insisting that “the LRA is now a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda” (AFP, October 14).

The CAR has also joined in forming a joint military brigade with forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, intended to complete the elimination of the LRA (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19). However, with South Sudanese independence looking like the sure result of next month’s independence referendum, Khartoum may choose to continue using the LRA as a regional proxy to threaten the security of those nations choosing to support the separation of South Sudan.

A new U.S. strategy designed to eliminate the threats posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability has four stated objectives:

• Increase protection of civilians.

• Apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his sub-commanders.

• Promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the remaining LRA fighters.

• Increase humanitarian access and provide relief to affected communities. [1]


Lying outside of any effective government control, Birao and the rest of the CAR’s northeast region offer insurgent groups, bandits, deserters and renegades an appealing mix of isolation from the CAR state infrastructure and proximity to the borders with Chad and Sudan.

Presidential elections, which have been postponed four times this year, are now set to take place on January 23, 2011, only weeks after neighboring South Sudan’s independence referendum, an event with profound implications for regional security. With the two leading candidates being Bozizé and his ousted predecessor Patassé, there appears to be little chance for substantial change in the CAR. A third possible candidate, former prime minister Martin Ziguele, has been accused by government spokesmen of being a terrorist and the “new de facto president of the CPJP,” though no evidence was produced to support this charge (AFP, September 24).


1.  “Letter from the President on the Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” November 24, 2010,


This article first appeared in the December 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Chadian Insurgency Collapses as Sudan Secures Western Border before Referendum in South

Andrew McGregor

October 28, 2010

The new friendship between Chad and Sudan has led to the complete collapse of the once powerful Chadian armed opposition, which was reliant on Sudanese bases and assistance. The collapse comes as part of a major security restructuring in the Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic region, one that will help enable Khartoum to focus on the South Sudan as the January 2011 South Sudan independence referendum draws near.
Mahamat NouriGeneral Mahamat Nouri

With last year’s rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena came new joint border patrols that put an effective end to cross-border operations by Chadian rebel groups. Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) spokesman Abderahman Koulamallah acknowledged that the movement’s armed presence in Sudan was “a matter of longstanding concern for Sudanese authorities,” adding that UFR forces would leave their bases in Sudan voluntarily “because of the friendly ties that bind us” (Afrol News, October 4). Nevertheless, Khartoum encouraged their departure by expelling their leaders to Doha and restricting access to local markets. In these conditions, Koulamallah announced the willingness of the UFR to hold immediate and unconditional talks with the Déby regime, saying, “It is time that the leaders of the armed opposition and those in government meet as soon as possible. This is a new step since we are calling for a dialogue without condition. We believe that the reconciliation with Sudan was one thing and the reconciliation between Chadians is another. We are awaiting the Chadian government’s response” (Radio France Internationale, October 20).

General Mahamat Nouri, leader of the Alliance nationale pour le changement démocratique (ANCD) and the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD) coalition, opposed the disarmament of his forces, but could do little about it, after being expelled to Doha, other than offer the hope that his fighters would be granted refugee status rather than returned to Chad (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], September 30; PANA Online, September 7). There were fears in the ANCD that President Déby had demanded the extradition of some 30 ANCD leaders, though authorities in N’Djamena later denied this (Radio France Internationale, September 27). Timane Erdimi’s UFR agreed to disarm and return to Chad in mid-October, though some have vowed to establish new bases in the Central African Republic (CAR) (Afrol News, October 11; for Erdimi and the UFR see Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30).

There are reports that Chadian rebel Adam Yacoub, a former military commander in the UFR, has crossed into the CAR with fighters under his command (Sudan Tribune, September 27). Many UFR fighters had planned to move to the CAR, but the border was better patrolled than expected and hoped-for assistance from the Sudanese government in making the move failed to materialize (Afrol News, October 4).

With their leaders gone, discipline began breaking down in the remaining formations of opposition fighters. Near the North Darfur town of Kutum, Chadian fighters were accused of raping local women, terrorizing farmers, preventing the harvest from being brought in and threatening people with their weapons (Radio Dabanga, October 1).  In the Wadi Saleh district of West Darfur, Chadian rebels entered the town of Garsila with the intention of liberating two of their leaders who had been arrested after refusing to order the fighters to disarm (Radio Dabanga, October 21).

Many of the rebels have chosen to return to N’Djamena and take advantage of an amnesty being offered by President Idriss Déby. Most UFR fighters assembled in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir to be returned in five batches with the cooperation of officials from the Chadian government and military (Sudan Tribune, October 12).

The UN’s Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), which has provided security along Chad’s borders with Darfur and the CAR since 2007, ended military operations on October 15 in preparation for a full withdrawal by the end of the year at the request of the Chadian government (UN News Service, October 20). As the UN forces prepare to depart, regional solutions to the continued insecurity caused by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are being developed. A mid-October meeting in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), resulted in a commitment from Uganda, Sudan, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to create a joint operations center responsible for enabling the effective exchange of intelligence (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19).

Sudan is also forming a joint border patrol with the CAR to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels moving to the region. According to Colonel Fatah al-Rahim Abdalla Sulayman, the commander of Sudanese forces operating in the area, a military protocol has already been signed between Bangui and Khartoum with some elements of the new border force already active (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

Minni MinawiMinni Minawi

The establishment of the joint border patrol with Chad gave Khartoum a chance to find a useful role for Minni Minawi’s faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which abandoned the rebellion in Darfur in 2006 to join with the Khartoum government. Since then, Minawi’s group has suffered from extensive desertions as it was put to work fighting former comrades and fellow tribesmen in Darfur. The joint border patrol had a recent success with the liberation of a kidnapped Chinese engineer who had been seized in northern Darfur by Chadian gunmen from Ennedi, close to the Sudan border (AFP, September 17; Radio France Internationale, September 15).

With the resolution of Chad’s long-standing dispute with Sudan and the dispersal of the armed opposition, President Déby has been displaying a newfound confidence that extends to risking the departure of French military forces in N’Djamena (Opération Epervier) by demanding rent for facilities used by the French. The French forces (which include three Mirage 2000 warplanes) have ensured the survival of the Déby government by providing intelligence and logistical support in the regime’s struggle with rebel forces. French military medical teams also provide free surgical and dental operations to Chadian citizens, but the entire force has the option of moving to Gabon if Déby’s demands prove excessive (Jeune Afrique, September 3). Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Chad on February 5, 2011 with a presidential poll set to begin on April 3.

This article first appeared in the October 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad

Andrew McGregor

July 30, 2010

When Chad became independent in 1960 the government came under the control of the tribes of the fertile southern region, who formed the majority of the population. However, it was only a few years before the Muslim tribes of the arid north launched a civil war against the regime, culminating in their seizure of power in 1979. Since then control of Chad has been fought over by the small northern tribes of the Borkou/Ennedi/Tibesti region with the majority south as spectators to the often fratricidal conflict. Since 1990, Chad has been ruled by General Idriss Déby, a member of the Bideyat sub-clan of the Zaghawa tribe who took power by mounting an invasion from Darfur with Sudanese backing. Since then, revenues from the discovery of oil in the south have created an even more intense struggle for power among the northern tribes and clans.

Zaghawa MapFor 15 years, twin brothers  Tom and Timane Erdimi were the right hand men of the president, handling the most sensitive (and lucrative) portfolios. As nephews of the president they were among his most trusted associates. At the time of their defection to the rebels in 2005, Tom was the President’s permanent undersecretary and chief of oil operations, while Timane was the manager of Cotontchad, the state cotton monopoly (Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, December 23, 2005).

Tom Erdimi left Chad and relocated in Houston, where he had connections in the oil industry. It is believed that Tom is responsible for the movement’s financing. Field leadership of the movement was given to Timane, a career civil servant rather than a military man like his opponent Déby.

Déby described his new opponents as “mercenaries,” working for Khartoum’s petrodollars. He said he is “ashamed” for Timane Erdimi:

I know that in the history of wars, there have always been defections to the enemy, traitors to the fatherland and other kinds of persons who make up the fifth column. During the Algerian war of liberation, there were Harkis, Algerians who turned round to fight their own brothers from the ranks of the former colonial power. At the end of the war, they complained that France had abandoned them. Chadian ‘Harkis’ are well advised to meditate on that tragic historical lesson.

The Zaghawa

Originating in a homeland that spreads across northern Chad and Darfur, the Zaghawa (who call themselves Beri) are an indigenous African people who have adopted a nomadic, camel herding lifestyle similar to their Arab neighbors. They have their own Nilo-Saharan language, but many speak Arabic and all are now practicing Muslims. In recent decades, however, these poorly known residents of remote regions began a remarkable transformation, achieved partly through their embrace of education. The Zaghawa have demonstrated political, commercial and military skills that have propelled them to an importance far beyond their meager numbers in both Sudan and Chad, where they form only 2% of the population. Their influence has spread as many migrated south to escape drought while others established a successful diaspora community in the Gulf States.

Dar Zaghawa (the land of the Zaghawa) was a victim of late 19th/early 20th century imperialism, being divided between French rule in the west and Anglo-Egyptian rule in the east. The tribe consists of four groups:

  • The Zaghawa Kobe, who live mostly in Chad and form the largest Zaghawa group.
  • The Zaghawa Wogi, who are split between Chad and the Sudan.
  • The Bideyat, who are concentrated in the Ennedi Massif of northeastern Chad.
  • The Borogat, who are a mix of Zaghawa and Goran (a Tubu sub-group).

Even within the Zaghawa there are divisions between sub-tribes – the Zaghawa Kobe began to complain in the late 1990s that President Déby was favoring Bideyat over the Kobe in key government positions. Despite this, the Kobe continue to dominate the ranks of the Armée Nationale Tchadienne (ANT), the Garde Républicaine, the police and the intelligence services. They are also the dominant group in Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the most significant challenge to Khartoum’s rule in the region.

Friction grew within the Zaghawa ruling circle after the Darfur rebellion broke out in 2003. Many were dissatisfied with the level of support Déby was prepared to offer the largely-Zaghawa led insurgent groups, including Dr. Khalil Ibrahim’s JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army-MM of Minni Arcua Minnawi. (a Wogi whose movement has been reduced to members of his own clan after going over to the Khartoum government in 2006).

The Bideyat sub-tribe of the Zaghawa developed a formidable reputation with French and British colonial administrators in the early 20th century. In a 1915 British intelligence report, Harold A. MacMichael described the Bideyat (with colonial prejudices in place) as “an exaggerated form of the Zaghawa. They are darker, wilder, bigger thieves, more independent, more treacherous and live farther North than the latter.” [1] The Bideyat sub-clan, despite its tiny numbers, now controls both the Chadian government and much of the armed opposition.

The Erdimi Brothers Turn Rebel

In June 2005 an Act of Parliament passed allowing Déby to run for a third term as president. The unpopular legislation prompted a trickle of desertions from Déby’s security forces that became a flood in October 2005 as it became apparent Déby was intent on remaining president long after his constitutionally sanctioned two terms were over, possibly even intending to pass on power to his son Brahim. The deserters, including many Zaghawa officers, headed east to join various rebel movements operating near the Sudanese border. Déby was compelled to reorganize his Presidential Guard after a number of defections.

In December, Tom and Timane Erdimi also abandoned the government, sure that regime change was around the corner. The government quickly accused Tom Erdimi of treason, claiming he had embezzled millions of dollars while running state oil operations and had joined in a plot to assassinate the president (IRIN, December 12, 2005). Bideyat anger with Déby had already surfaced in May 2004 with an unsuccessful coup attempt. To further their aims the brothers founded the Rassemblement des Forces Démocratiques (RaFD).

The Erdimis believed they could take a path to power identical to that followed by Déby in 1982 – build a new armed movement in Darfur composed of Zaghawa defectors and then cross 800 km of desert and bush to seize power in N’Djamena. They may well have succeeded in this against a lesser opponent, but despite the corruption and authoritarianism of his government, Idriss Déby has never backed down from a challenge to his rule, even when it appeared his overthrow was imminent; “People tend to forget that I am an old soldier who still keeps an eye open” (Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, January 5, 2006).

Rivals and Collaborators in the Rebel Front

In February and early March, 2006 the families of Timan Erdimi and General Seby Aguide Béchibo were both evicted from their state owned buildings and their goods seized on government orders (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], March 1, 2006). Days later, an apparent attempt to shoot down an aircraft carrying President Déby on March 14 was blamed on the Erdimi brothers and General Aguide, a Zaghawa officer who was dismissed from the army on March 10 (AFP, March 15, 2006; IRIN, March 15, 2006).

A daring April 2006 attack on N’djamena by the Front Uni pour le Changement (FUC – drawn mainly from the Tama tribe) forces under Captain Mahamat Nour Abdelkerim. Nour’s decision to risk all on a lighting attack across 800 kilometers was described by Déby as a “suicidal” strategy. Erdimi was also critical of the raid that brought FUC rebels into N’Djamena before being repulsed by government forces; “It is a strategic mistake. One cannot leave the Sudanese border and rush straight to Ndjamena without being backed by one’s rear base” (Jeune Afrique, April 24, 2006). Nevertheless, Mahamat Nour was able to parlay his unsuccessful attack into a short-lived appointment as Defense Minister in Déby’s government.

A rival and sometime collaborator of the Erdimi brothers now emerged in General Mahamat Nouri, a Goran of the Anakaza sub-tribe from Faya-Largeau and an important minister in both the governments of Hissène Habré (also an Anakaza Goran from Faya-Largeau) and Idriss Déby before he quit to join the rebellion in 2005.  General Nouri formed the Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Developpement (UFDD), composed mainly of Goran tribesmen from the Tibesti region. In reference to Déby and the Bideyat, Nouri said “Chad cannot continue to be governed by one family or tribe,” though Nouri himself is suspected by many other rebels of wanting to restore Goran domination of the government (AFP, February 17, 2008).

A large government offensive in September 2006 attacked the RaFD at Hadjer Marfaine, near the Sudan border. The RaFD claimed to have repelled two columns of troops, capturing 43 soldiers, dozens of transport vehicles and two tanks. Angered by the appearance of French Mirage jets over the battlefield, Timane warned that “all French citizens, military or civil, that fall into the hands of our combatants will be considered as mercenaries and treated accordingly” (, September 21, 2006).

Of particular importance to the rebel movement was the eruption of political violence in Dar Tama in September 2006, as Zaghawa gunmen began targeting Tama rebels or suspected rebels. The mainly Zaghawa police force in Dar Tama did little to stop the violence. The army clashed with RaFD rebels again at Guéréda in the heart of Dar Tama in the first week of December, 2006. 

Timane Erdimi reorganized the RaFD as the Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement (RFC). The first fighting between the new RFC and government forces occurred in early December, 2007 during heavy but indecisive fighting in the Kapka hills after the RFC crossed the border from Sudan (IRIN, December 3, 2007; RFI, December 4, 2007).

To the Gates of the Presidential Palace

In January, 2008 the various rebel movements formed a military alliance but could not decide on a common leader. Despite this unfavorable arrangement, the rebels advanced on N’Djamena in three columns, one under Nouri, another under Erdimi and the third under Abd al-Wahid Aboud Makaye, a Salamat Arab. Rejecting the idea of flight to another country, Déby led an outnumbered force into battle at Massaguet, 80 km north of N’Djamena. After some initial success, the fight did not go well for the president, who narrowly evaded capture at one point. Less fortunate was his chief of defense staff, General Daoud Soumain, who was killed in the fighting. As Déby returned to the capital to organize a last-ditch resistance, government troops began to desert in large numbers.

The rebels reached the gates of the Presidential Palace in N’Djamena on February 2, but the offensive then broke against its own core weakness – lack of a single leader. Possibly minutes from taking power, all the ethnic and personal rivalries within the rebel alliance emerged when it could not be decided who would read the victory message over the radio (Sudan Tribune, February 18). The rebels also ran out of ammunition at this point due to what Erdimi’s faction described as the failure of a UFDD convoy bringing ammunition and reinforcements to reach the capital after it was hit by JEM fighters (AFP, February 17, 2008; see also Jeune Afrique February 18, 2008 for an account of the battle). This gave Déby a chance to rally his remaining forces (including a number of JEM fighters) and drive the rebels out of N’Djamena on February 3 with assistance from French forces based in the capital. After the battle French authorities admitted to supplying Déby’s forces with fuel, food, intelligence and Libyan ammunition. French troops also defended the airport and kept it open throughout the fighting, allowing government helicopters to play a decisive role in driving off the attackers (AFP, February 3, 2008; February 7, 2008; February 15, 2008; RFI, February 4, 2008).

After the collapse of the rebel offensive a new rebel coalition formed with Mahamat Nouri as its leader. Defections to a new anti-Nouri movement began immediately, with complaints that Nouri’s leadership had been imposed on the rebels by Khartoum (RFI, March 11, 2008).

The Rebels Try Again

By June, 2008 the rebels were ready to try again, but this time their advance on N’Djamena was halted in a major battle at Am Zoer on June 17 (50 miles north of Abéché). Déby would not allow the National Alliance rebels to close in on N’Djamena and within days of the defeat at Am Zoer the rebels were willing to negotiate, though Déby refused talks until the rebels renounced their ties with Sudan (, June 20; AFP, June 20). Ethnic tensions within the movement and a continued failure to unite behind one leader were cited as reasons for the failure of the rebel advance. The Nouri-Erdimi coalition was doomed to fail as the two had conflicting agendas.  Erdimi sought another Zaghawa (preferably himself) to replace Déby as president, while Nouri was firmly against perpetuating Zaghawa control of the country (, February 21, 2008).

In August 2008, Timane Erdimi received news that he had been sentenced to death in a mass trial held in N’Djamena. Twelve men, including Mahamat Nouri and former president Hissène Habré were sentenced to death in absentia, though Erdimi said; “I’ve heard nothing about this … it is they who should be put on trial” (Reuters, August 15, 2008; AFP, August 15, 2008). Though far from Déby’s reach in Texas, brother Tom was also sentenced to 30 years at hard labor (Le Progres [N’Djamena], July 24, 2008).

Timane Erdimi – The Imposed Leader

In early January, 2009 Erdimi joined his force with several other rebel groups in the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) (RFI, January 19, 2009). His leadership of the alliance was reportedly imposed by Khartoum, which also supplied new Chinese-made military equipment (RFI, January 24, 2009). There were challenges to Erdimi’s leadership, however, especially from Mahamat Nouri’s Tama followers who believed it was their turn to rule the country (Tchadactuel, February 3, 2009). In July, Colonel Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, a major rebel leader, decided to return home rather than continue under Erdimi’s leadership (Le Temps [N’Djamena], July 27, 2009).

Timane ErdimiTimane Erdimi

UFR forces fought government troops at the May 7-8, 2009 battle of Am Dam in Chad’s southeastern Salamat region, home to the nomadic Arab Salamat tribe.  The UFR forces crossed the border from their bases in Darfur headed for N’Djamena on May 5, but General Toufa Abdoulaye mounted an ambush with the Republican Guard for the rebels roughly 100 km south of Abeché, the old capital of the Sultanate of Wadai, traditional rival of the Sultanate of Darfur. The arrival of armored forces under Chadian Chief-of-Staff General Hassan al-Gadam al-Djineddi prevented the UFR from flanking Abdoulaye’s force and drove them back in disorder to the border with Darfur. Russian-made Sukhoi bombers and MI-8 gunships flown by Ukrainian pilots were also used against the rebel columns (RFI, May 19, 2009).  UFR losses were heavy and by December most of its elements had withdrawn its trucks and fighters (RFI, December 10, 2009).

In June, 2009 a website sympathetic to the armed opposition outlined the movement’s grievances with Timane Erdimi’s leadership of the UFR:

  • Erdimi had failed to bring about the expected defection of relatives and clansmen still supporting the Déby regime.
  • Despite having a large and well-equipped rebel force Erdimi controlled little territory in Chad.
  • Erdimi’s political skills were questionable – his only major speech had plagiarized an earlier address by former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide (Alwihda, June 1, 2009).

Consequences of the Chad-Sudan Peace Agreement

A peace agreement between Chad and Sudan reached earlier this year means Khartoum’s active support for the Chadian rebels will end for the time being, though Khartoum would undoubtedly like to keep the armed movements in their back pocket for future use. Erdimi tried to brush off such concerns, stating their fight was “not dependent on relations between Chad and Sudan” (RFI, February 12; AFP, January 22). Nevertheless, the agreement is unpopular with many leading Zaghawa – when JEM leader Dr. Khalil Ibrahim attempted to land in N’Djamena on May 23 on his return to Darfur from Libya via Chad, permission was refused for his plane to land. An incident was avoided when Khalil dissuaded supporters in 300 vehicles from overrunning the airport. The Zaghawa military leadership issued a note to the president criticizing his decision. The president’s brother, Sultan Timan Déby, was reported to be very angry at the refusal to admit Khalil Ibrahim – Sultan Timan is also Khalil’s cousin (Asharq al-Awsat, May 23).


Tom Erdimi’s association with U.S. oil executives in Houston has cost the brothers political support from Libya and France, who continue to support Déby in the interests of regional stability. Erdimi has threatened to mount attacks on the French and American oil infrastructure in the south with the intention of creating enough insecurity to force the United States and France to abandon President Déby. This idea was immediately attacked by Mahamat Nouri; “He should not make threats like that. The petrol sector is for all Chadians. We should be preserving it, not using it for blackmail” (AFP, March 17, 2009; RFI, March 17, 2009). Timane Erdimi views the Déby regime as surviving solely on the support of France, the United States and the World Bank. So far, nothing has come of Erdimi’s threats against the oilfields as the struggle for power remains largely confined to the tribes of the north. With oil providing nearly all the national budget, crippling the industry could also finish Erdimi as a political force in Chad.

Timane Erdimi has always denied acting as a proxy for Khartoum, stating; “We are not auxiliaries of the Sudanese army” (AFP, May 10). However, he is still widely seen as perpetuating the Bideyat-Zaghawa domination of Chadian politics. For all its rhetoric, the Zaghawa armed opposition is fundamentally undemocratic, for no conceivable free election would return the minority Zaghawa to power. Erdimi has admitted that, should he take power, his plan for Chad “is not democracy,” but will rather focus on developing the government’s infrastructure (AFP, April 24).

The Erdimi brothers’ political future does not look bright – Uncle Idriss grips power as tightly as ever in N’Djamena, some of their followers now see them as “yesterday’s men” and they can expect little support from Khartoum, which has signed a deal with Déby to secure Sudan’s western border before next year’s referendum on southern independence.


  1. H.A. MacMichael, “Notes on the tribes of Darfur,” Khartoum, 1915 (Sudan National Archives – SNA INTEL 5/3/38).

This article first appeared in the Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30, 2010

Chadian Opposition Clashes with Government Troops

Andrew McGregor

May 6, 2010

Reports have emerged of a pair of battles on April 24 and April 28 between Chadian government forces and those of the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance Nationale (FPRN), one of a number of rebel movements seeking to overthrow the government of President Idriss Déby. The fighting apparently took place close to the village of For Djahaname, near the border with Sudan’s Darfur province. Fighting took place in December 2009 in the same region, which is home to the cross-border Salamat Arab tribe (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 1).

Chad Opp 1Chadian Government Forces Take the Offensive

Government spokesmen claimed the army had killed 105 insurgents and captured another 80 in the two clashes. FPRN forces led by Adam Yacoub Kougou claimed to have defeated the government’s troops on April 24, capturing a large quantity of weapons, but after the second battle it said only that large numbers of troops had been lost on both sides and that it was awaiting expected air raids by Chadian warplanes (AFP, April 24). The FPRN leadership later claimed the regime had been “caught lying red-handed,” and that 64 wounded soldiers had been taken to French military facilities in Chad for medical treatment (AFP, May 1).

Unlike most of the Chadian opposition groups, which are based across the border in Darfur, the FPRN is based inside Chad. The usual pattern for such attacks is for N’Djamena to claim that those responsible were working for the Sudanese government, followed by retaliatory attacks by Chad’s own proxies in Darfur. When the initial attack occurs in Sudan, the entire process is reversed. This time, however, N’Djamena did not blame Khartoum, keeping instead to the reconciliatory path the two nations have been following since January. Rather than recriminations, N’Djamena actually congratulated Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on his “brilliant” victory in the recent Sudanese elections (Reuters, April 29). President Déby also did Khartoum a favor by denouncing the Southern Sudanese separatist movement, saying independence would harm both Sudan and the region at large. The Chad-Sudan border was reopened in mid-April for the first time in seven years (AFP, April 14).

Chad Opp 2FPRN Leader Adam Yacoub Kougou 

The N’Djamena regime began negotiations with several opposition groups in April as part of the larger reconciliation program, but the FPRN was not involved in these talks (AFP, April 26). The movement consists mainly of rebels who left the umbrella UFR group because they opposed negotiations with the Déby regime. Another rebel movement, the Mouvement pour la democratie et la justice au Tchad (MDJT), signed a ceasefire with the government on April 24 (PANA Online, April 24). MDJT fighters are scheduled to be integrated into Chad’s military and security forces. Déby is said to be exhausted with never-ending negotiations with Chad’s rebel movements, and has told the remaining rebels that he has “no money, no positions, or anything else to give” (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], April 14).

Unfortunately for Déby, the clashes came just as his government was attempting to persuade Europe and the United Nations that peacekeepers are no longer needed in eastern Chad, the site of the battles. N’Djamena has insisted on the departure of the U.N.’s Mission des Nations Unies en République centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), a 5,000-man peacekeeping mission deployed in the Central African Republic and the eastern regions of Chad, the frontline of the conflict between Déby’s regime and the insurgents. Without cooperation from N’Djamena, MINURCAT’s Irish and Finnish contingents have decided to withdraw, while the mission as a whole will be drastically scaled back as heavy weapons and equipment are withdrawn from Chad. After May 16, the mission will consist of only 1,900 men, far short of the figure necessary to be effective. Déby has called the mission “a failure,” suggesting the peacekeepers were unwilling to leave the safety of their fortified bases (AFP, April 23).

Across the border in Darfur, it appears that the peace accord between Khartoum and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is beginning to unravel. JEM, which appears to have lost some degree of its former support from N’Djamena, has reported various low level clashes with government forces in recent days. JEM forces in West Darfur claim Sudanese MiGs and Antonov aircraft are flying reconnaissance flights over JEM deployments in West Darfur in preparation for a major government offensive using heavy weapons and local auxiliaries (Sudan Tribune, April 22).

This article first appeared in the May 6, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Armed Opposition Groups Redeploy in Wake of Chad-Sudan Border Security Pact

Andrew McGregor

January 21, 2010

Recent talks in N’djamena seem to confirm both Sudan and Chad have realized that their use of proxies in a long-standing dispute is a dangerous game that threatens the existence of both regimes.

TimaneRFC Leader Timani Erdime (Tchadoscope)

An agreement was reached during talks on January 8-9 that committed both parties to cease the hosting or supporting of armed opposition groups, basically reviving the March 2008 Dakar Agreement between Chad and Sudan (see text at Sudan Tribune, March 18, 2008).  A statement issued by the Chadian Foreign Ministry said N’djamena was prepared to allow all participating bodies, including the Khartoum government, to “verify on the ground the absence of any anti-Sudan presence in Chadian territories” (AFP, January 11). Chad and Sudan have also agreed to stop using their respective media to launch attacks on each other (SUNA, December 29, 2009). The Sudanese Foreign Ministry was adamant that the negotiations were strictly “tactical” and had nothing to do with the ongoing Darfur peace negotiations in Doha.

Sources at the Chadian Foreign Ministry told the French press that a government delegation had been sent to eastern Chad to tell Dr. Khalil Ibrahim that he and his Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces would have to leave the country (AFP, January 11). JEM is the most effective opposition group in Darfur and the only one with national aspirations. Its largely Zaghawa leadership has maintained close ties to the Zaghawa president of Chad, Idriss Déby. While the Zaghawa of northern Chad and northern Darfur represent only 2 to 4% of the total population in both countries, they have developed a political and economic importance far greater than their numbers would indicate. A JEM spokesman stressed that the movement was not concerned by the rapprochement, insisting that JEM forces were “in Darfur, not in Chad” (Sudan Tribune, January 12). Nevertheless, JEM and other rebel groups in Darfur draw recruits from the over 250,000 Darfur refugees living in camps in eastern Chad.

On January 14, JEM reported that government planes were bombing the rebel stronghold at Jabal Mun in West Darfur, forcing hundreds of civilians to flee across the border to Chad (Sudan Tribune, January 14; AFP, January 13). JEM has also complained that Chadian rebels newly based in the Sayah district of North Darfur are “committing crimes against our people there” (Sudan Tribune, January 11).

Residents of al-Sayah have complained to aid groups that the Chadians were raping, beating and looting locals, mostly members of the non-Arab Berti tribe, as well as helping themselves to scarce quantities of water, livestock, food and firewood without compensation (Reuters, January 11). The United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reported the arrival of the Chadian fighters at al-Sayah on December 3, 2009. The appearance of an estimated 5,000 fighters in some 700 vehicles has put a severe strain on available resources. A Berti appeal to the regional governor to withdraw the rebels was met with a firm refusal, with the governor reportedly saying the rebels were there as part of an agreement to withdraw Chadian opposition groups from the border (al-Sahafa [Khartoum], December 19). JEM deputy chairman Muhammad Adam Bakhit claims the redeployment is designed to make the forces available for the defense of al-Fashir if it is threatened by the Darfur rebels (Sudan Tribune, January 20).

The Chadian forces belong to the Union des Forces de la Résistance (UFR), an umbrella group of rebels based in Darfur. The principal component of the UFR is the Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement (RFC), whose Zaghawa leader, Timane Erdimi, is also leader of the UFR. Though Timane and his twin brother Tom are nephews of Chadian president Déby and former cabinet ministers in his government, they are now among his strongest opponents. Timane was sentenced to death in absentia in August, 2008. Most RFC fighters are Zaghawa defectors from the Garde Républicaine.

N’djamena and Khartoum have agreed to deploy a joint border patrol designed to prevent cross-border infiltration of armed groups. Enforcement of the terms of the new agreement may prove more difficult for the Chadian opposition groups than JEM. While JEM forces have bases within Darfur, the Chadian groups are based solely in Darfur and only emerge onto Chadian territory to carry out raids. JEM is largely armed from stocks captured from the Sudanese Armed Forces, while the Chadian groups rely on Khartoum for their arms. Expelling these groups from Sudan could result in the permanent loss of a potential asset that could be used against N’Djamena should relations falter once more in the pattern typical of Chadian-Sudanese relations. Khartoum will likely prefer to keep such forces away from the border for the time being and deploy them against Darfur rebel groups to earn their keep.

This article first appeared in the January 21, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Central African Republic Claims Rebel Group Mounting Attacks in Retaliation for Arrest of Their Leader in Chad

Andrew McGregor

June 25, 2009

After the surprising detention of their leader in Chad, a Central African Republic (CAR) rebel group has mounted new attacks on government forces to press for his release, according to CAR government spokesmen. The rebels belong to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), led by the recently detained Charles Massi, a former minister of mines and agriculture in the government of the CAR. Massi was ousted from his post when the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé was overthrown by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR. In recent years the violence in the CAR has become closely tied to political violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

MassiCharles Massi

Rebels claimed to have killed 24 soldiers in the June 12 attack, while government forces claimed 15 rebels and three soldiers killed (AFP, June 17). According to the Defense Ministry, fighting began after the CPJP rebels attacked a Forces armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) column at Akroub Soulban in the Ndele region (Le Confident [Bangui], June 15). CPJP spokesman Assan M’bringa Togbo said the combat, lasting several hours, began when six heavily armed FACA vehicles attacked their camp (AFP, June 13).

Massi’s arrest came unexpectedly after Massi left Paris for N’Djamena, where he had meetings with leading Chadian officials and sought President Idriss Déby’s mediation in his dispute with the CAR government (Le Confident [Bangui], June 8; June 11). His arrest was reported to have come in mid-May as he headed towards the CAR border (Radio France Internationale, June 5).  CAR President Bozizé has close ties with the Déby regime and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the ramshackle armed forces, are from Chad.

Massi has been charged with “attempted destabilisation of a neighbouring country.” The CPJP has written Idriss Déby, asking for Massi’s release on the grounds he “in no way represents a danger either to internal or external security nor to the national and territorial security of Chad” (AFP, June 17).

It is difficult to say what direction the leaderless CPJP will now take, considering that the movement exists solely as a manifestation of Massi’s political ambitions. Junior Defense Minister Jean-Francis Bozizé (son of President Bozizé) says the CPJP is seeking to use any means “to maintain a climate of insecurity in the country” (AFP, June 17). The CPJP has established a stronghold in the Ndele region and has so far refused to participate in the CAR peace process, aimed at reconciling a host of rebel movements with the Bozizé government.

The other main rebel group still outside the peace process is led by General Abdoulaye Miskine (a.k.a. Martin Koumta-Madji), a Chadian mercenary who inserted himself into CAR politics after acting as a military adviser to President Patassé. With most of the CAR army based in Bangui, the rest of the country is open ground for rebel movements, cattle raiders and coupeurs de routes (highwaymen). Forming an armed group has become the standard way of expressing political viewpoints or resolving political disputes in the CAR. A Bangui daily reported the formation on May 23 of yet another rebel movement, the National Movement for the Fatherland’s Salvation, whose central dispute is with the leadership of an existing rebel movement, the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (L’Hirondelle, June 11).

This article first appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor