Chad has been torn by rebellions and military clashes since it acquired its formal independence from France in 1960. The inbreaks of the Libyan-based rebels are a common thing: the border was crossed by the rebels in 2018 and 2019, and both attacks were stopped by the French Air Force. This time, however, France has chosen noninvolvement: the only help from Paris was the intel support. The question is how much France is aware about the rebel forces and who is backing the FACT movement.
According to the UN reports, the FACT were based at a Jufra military air base in central Libya. The Jufra airbase is known as an unofficial transport hub where France collects the gold, uranium and oil which was exploited in Chad, Niger and Mali. After being collected the shadowy cargo goes to the Sirte port to travel to its final destinations.
Another interesting venue also associated with the FACT rebel group is Sabha Airbase (also known as Tamanhent Airbase), a Libyan Air Force base southeast of Sabha. The open source research provided the information from the local source that the French have been building up this airbase and providing support for the FACT fighters. In the image of the Sabha Airbase, presumably taken on January 2021, the process of unloading of a propeller plane can be observed. Also there is a helicopter in the parking lot.
The image made on 4 September 2019 shows two fighter jets and a helicopter. The asphalt of the runway and adjacent roads has been refurbished.
The image from 4 February 2021 shows that the hangar near the parking lot is completed. At one of the hangars in the territory, seven military pickups are observed, presumably with large-calibre machine guns.
The situation became suspicious as the Chadian government forces were taken by surprise, because they did not have the right information on the rebel numbers and their equipment. There is a small chance that French military did not have the intel within a rebel group which was located close to the French areas of interest. Given the fact that the only help France was offering Chad this time was the intel support, it is hard to escape a conclusion that the whole operation with the FACT march on the Chadian capital is another below-the-radar acitivity orchestrated by France in order to solidify its positions in Africa.
At least 1,000 French soldiers are currently based in Chad. The military presence of France in the Republic of Chad dates back to 1986. Since 2014 the headquarters of the counterterrorism Operation Barkhane has been set in Ndjamena. The major base for France military presence in Africa, Chad is quite dependent on Paris and the recent event shows that France is ready to put the indirect pressure on the Chad’s government.
The fact that President Macron decided to attend the funeral of Idriss Déby is of utter importance: it looks like the French side wants to be sure that the new leadership of the country clearly understands the power balance and the means which Paris has and is ready to implement. Chad rests one of the last levers of pressure for France in the region, as the former colonial power is constantly losing authority among its ex-colonies. The growing discontent of French politics in Mali and the Central African Republic pushed Paris to quick and decisive actions which would show the region and the global community that France can use underhand methods of power exercise.
France is not the only patron of the FACT. The UN reports that while the FACT were stationed in Libya they have been receiving cargo carrying weapons from the United Arab Emirates on the regular basis. The 400-450 cars with heavy military equipment deployed by the FACT fighters were also delivered by the UAE. The UAE, another global power with imperial ambitions, decided to remind Chad its place because of the rapprochement between the Chadian Republic and Qatar. There appeared the news that Qatar facilitated negotiations between the Swiss commodity firm Glencore and Chad concerning its €1.2 billion ($1.4bn) debt, which led to the renegotiation of the debt on very advantageous terms for Chad.
What is the role of the United Nations in this morbid scenario? The displacements and movements of the FACT fighters were well observed and documented by the UN experts. According to the United Nations investigators, in Libya the FACT fighters have been cumulating weapons, money and battlefield experience, preparing to come back to Chad. Yet nothing has been done on the side of the UN to counter these actions.
Now the UN is worried that uncertain situation in the Republic of Chad would have a negative impact on the counterterrorism operations in western and central Africa and will worsen security situation in the already unsteady region.
This situation, however, was potentially preventable if not for the UN’s inactivity and inefficiency. The approved budget for the UN peacekeeping operations during the current fiscal year (1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021) is US $ 6.58bn. In addition, many countries voluntarily provide additional resources, like vehicles, supplies and personnel, in support of the UN peacekeeping activities at no cost. These resources seem to be more than enough to imply the measures needed for peacekeeping. But the UN’s huge bureaucratic structure gobbles up the money, slowing down the actual implementation of the decisions. Another burning problem within the structure is the poor quality of the expertise, as most of the reports are drafted by the experts who are not based in the regions they describe.
Now Chad faces a certain period of instability which can affect its neighbors as well. It seems that under the passive eye of the United Nations, France and the UAE once again managed to create a power shift, using under-the-table schemes for destabilizing the situation in Africa.
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