Chad: The Next Proxy War?

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Chad: The Next Proxy War?

The President of Chad Idriss Deby is growing concerned with the danger of terrorist activity in the Lake Chad area. He has recently made a number of personnel appointments in Chad’s special services, nominating his cousin and close friend Akhmat Yusuf Into for the post of the chief of militartary intelligence. Until recently, Into was the head of Chad’s General Staff 2nd Department (Intelligence) and coordinated operations against Tuareg separatists and Boko Haram islamist extremists.

The move appears to have been prompted by the recent series of terrorist suicide bomber attacks which killed nearly 40 individuals and which launched by Boko Harm as retaliation for Chadian military’s operations in Cameroon and western Chad aimed at the terror group. These attacks also revealed the existence of a well organized islamist presence right in Chad’s capital, and now Akhmad Into is facing the task of eliminating that presence both in the area of the capital Ndjamena and in the vicinity of Lake Chad which has long been a hot-spot of islamist activit and which is an avenue for infiltration into Ndjamena from Niger and Cameroon as the national borders in that part of the African continent exist largely on paper, not on the ground. Moreover, the lake is used by local tribes on all sides of the border as a venue for commerce which is used as a cover by the terrorists. The fact that Ndjamena-based government has so far failed to establish a good working relationship with the local Lake Chad tribal authorities only makes the problem of stopping the terrorists that much more difficult.

Other sources of concern include the sizable and growing number of refugees from Nigeria whose camps are dotting the Lake Chad region, with growing numbers of refugees gravitating toward the capital. These camps, which are operated under the aegis of the UN and a variety of international humanitarian NGOs, serve as a veritable nursery for jihadist terrorists who use them for recruitment, replenishment, rest, and recreation purposes as government forces are prohibited from entering the UN-organized camps. Chad is not an exception in that regard—UN-organized refugee camps have been associated with the growth in terrorist activity in the region where they are located in other areas of the world as well, including Darfur, and now there is a similar concern around UN-organized camps for refugees from Syria in Jordan and Turkey.

Chad’s efforts to counter the growing threat include an attempt to bring up its armed forces to a higher level of proficiency and professionalism. At the moment, Chadian military’s best formations are essentially Darfuri mercenaries from the Movement for Justice and Equality (MJE) which in the past have fought against the Sudanese regime and later on the side of Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan civil war. The fact they are basically mercenaries means their reliability and loyalty cannot be taken for granted by the Ndjamena government. On the plus side, Idriss Deby and the senior leadership of the MJE are members of the Zaghawa ethnic group, and moreover there is an emerging apparent alliance between Deby, MJE, and Egypt inasmuch all three are backing General Khaftar who is fighting against the Libyan Dawn islamist group. Secondly Deby, whose status as a regional leader has greatly increased following the Mali civil war and the overthrow of Muammar Gadafi in Libya, is soliciting aid from France which, frankly, needs Deby and his forces to maintain order in parts of Mali where France’s intervention has failed to defeat the islamists but instead drove them underground and forced them to engage in IED warfare.

Given the importance of Chad and the Deby regime as an anti-Islamist bulwark, it only stands to reason to expect interested Gulf Arab states which have been financing a variety of Islamist movements in Libya (where the Islamic State has likewise established a foothold) to attempt to weaken and even overthrow the Ndjamena government through yet another proxy war similar to the one that has been waged in Syria. And just as the Palestinian refugee camps have provided the cannon fodder for the first wave of “moderate rebels” in Syria, so will the refugee camps in Chad play their assigned role in that war as well. It is by now a tried and true technique that will no doubt be put into practice yet again.

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