The crisis in Chad
The crisis in Chad is apparently caused by a confluence of internal opposition to President Idris Deby and subversion by neighboring Sudan. The Human Rights Watch noted in 2006 that "Janjaweed militias and Chadian rebel groups with support from the Sudanese government are launching deadly cross-border raids on villages in eastern Chad". However, the rebels now besieging the presidential palace in the capital N'Djamena, which is a long distance from Sudan, are likely to be from the rebel groups which nearly topped the government in 2006. These include former members of the army and members of Deby's own ethnic group, though these may have Sudanese support.
The rebels appear to be more successful than they were in 2006. The latest reports say that rebels control half the city and have destroyed 30 government armored vehicles. Refugees are fleeting West over the bridge to Cameroon. The situation appears to have reached a temporary stalemate.
The web site of the French weekly Le Point quoted a rebel spokesman, Abderaman Koulamallah, as saying that rebel groups camped just outside N'Djamena were awaiting the arrival of additional forces. 'We are waiting for a column of reinforcements, who should arrive shortly. As soon as they arrive, we will move towards the (city) centre,' he said.
France is the ultimate guarantor of Chadian security, with several thousand troops in country. Recently France has distanced itself from the country after Chad awarded a contract to Exxon. Chad has recently become an oil exporter, a development which makes an otherwise economically worthless country a prize worth having.
Chad's greatest foreign influence is France ... Déby relies on the French to help repel the rebels, and France gives the Chadian army logistical and intelligence support for fear of a complete collapse of regional stability. Nevertheless, Franco-Chadian relations were soured by the granting of oil drilling rights to the American Exxon company in 1999.
However, news reports say that President Sarkozy has threatened to intervene if the Chadian government should threaten to fall. French airpower was instrumental in defeating the rebel challenge in 2006. But the support for Chad's government may not extend to propping up Deby personally. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
If Chad's government falls, it will largely be due to France's new policy of neutrality. France has provided its former colony with logistical and intelligence support since the country's independence in 1960. A previous coup attempt by the same coalition of rebel groups in 2006 was turned back, after French Mirage jets fired warning shots at an approaching rebel column. In a sign that times have changed, France has offered to help Chadian President Idriss Déby flee the country, an offer Mr. Déby pointedly refused.
France's major turnabout reflects both the hands-off philosophy of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and France's desire to lead a new European Union humanitarian peacekeeping force of troops of 3,700 men (2,100 of them French soldiers) to protect aid convoys to Darfur refugees living in Chad. The EUFOR mission would be the largest common defense mission in European Union history.
This change in French policy would appear to simultaneously de-couple French policy from a narrow support of Deby while widening its conception of the problem to include Darfur and Sudan as part of the theater. It would appear that under this strategic definition Deby is regarded as part of the problem as is the regime in Khartoum. Sudan has upped the ante. And the French it would appear, are matching the chips -- and using a non-NATO alliance to do it.
While France argues that its neutrality is necessary to preserving the integrity of the humanitarian EUFOR mission – designed to protect aid workers and supply convoys to the volatile Chadian border with Darfur – John Prendergast, an expert on Darfur and co-chair of the Enough Project in Washington, argues that France misjudged Chad's ability to defend itself. "I think the French were overconfident, and they underestimated the capacity of the Chadian rebels because of their past experience.
"The Chadian rebels learned a lesson from last time, they needed communications and force requirements in order to take the capital," says Prendergast. "Sudan wouldn't let them repeat the mistakes. They gave them equipment, training, and bases inside Sudan to prepare."
France gets the UN go-signal to intervene in Chad.