CHAD. ‘Will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’ Update 3rd March 2013
Chad is one of a group of so called Sahel countries which include Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania having their northern Islamic provinces in the arid southern ‘shore’ of the Sahara. Their Christian and animist provinces lie in the richer, sub tropical regions. This split ethnicity and religiosity was manageable in French colonial times but is less so nowadays when the rise of militant Islamism threatens stability. Nigeria shares a similar problem stemming from the British colonial period.
In 2004 elements of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) entered Chad but were beaten off by Chadian forces. This group is now known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was ejected by French forces in January 2013 from Gao and Timbuktu in Mali. Where will AQIM go next?
The English Cuckoo lays its egg in the nest of another species of bird which then proceeds to hatch the egg and raise the chick. Al Qaeda seeks out failed states and settles on them like cuckoos, imposing strict sharia law and creating terror and misery. Waziristan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Northern Nigeria and Mali are hosting substantial numbers of these ferocious extremists. Small but active al Qaeda franchises exist in the Philippines and Indonesia. There are those who argue that al Qaeda may have established a franchise in Benghazi and Derna in Eastern Libya.
As the French and the British direct their attention to the possible knock on effect of the crisis in Mali this post asks the question ‘will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’
The factors which attract al Qaeda seem to be a weak or remote central government, a weak national army, a weak and corrupt police force, intertribal strife, a safe haven in remote and rough terrain, access to criminal enterprises such as smuggling and capturing foreigners for ransom, poverty, neglect and native Salafist sympathisers.
The fall of a military dictatorship followed by political instability offers it a perfect nest in which to lay its parasitical egg. Will the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, survive in power now that Gaddafi has gone must now be a crucial question. The Tebesti Mountains of northern Chad and Sothern Libya may be particularly tempting for hardcore al Qaeda fighters seeking remote badlands in which to hide and thrive.
In 1960 Chad gained independence from France after sixty years of colonial rule. It is a vast, landlocked and ethnically diverse country in which the French failed to promote a sense of national unity. That is no surprise because there are a number of national cultures and religious affiliations, some of which have their roots in pre-colonial days. It follows that since independence Chad has suffered from deep religious and ethnic divisions. The struggle for power amongst the elites resulted in periods of armed rebellion and destructive civil war in which the meddlesome role of Gaddafi was notable.
In Chad there is the constant danger that the divide between the Arabised ‘Islamic’ north and the ‘Christian’ south will result in polarisation between the two, this inhibiting the formation of a democratic government and the sharing of resources. The government of Chad, which is formed from members of the northern and eastern Islamic groups, is becoming more Islamist in orientation. Chad, thus far, is a secular state, but the strengthening of Islam in public life and the friction between the faiths will threaten long term stability.
In Chad the use of armed force has been the means of establishing power. The current president, Idriss Déby, came to power by force of arms in 1990 and has since held on with the support of the national army which numbers around thirty thousand men. There is also Déby’s elite Republican Guard which is under his personal control and numbers around 5,500 personal. President Déby’s greatest external ally, France, maintains a military base there also. This last may be a lone guarantee of stability for Déby as things stand in the Sahel today.
AL Qaeda will have noted that the Tebesti region, bordering on Libya, is still an insecure area made the more unsafe by the large number of land mines laid by the Libyans when they occupied the Aozou Strip from 1973 to 1994. Chad has a unique position as it bridges sub Saharan and North Africa and also east and west Sahel. It also has long boarders with Sudan’s unstable and remote Darfur province and in the south with the troubled Central African Republic. Another hostage to fortune for Chad lurks in the north where its border with Libya lies somewhere within the Aozou Strip the ownership of which the two countries disputed violently between 1973 and 1994.
Muammar Gaddafi reigned in Libya for more that forty years during which he meddled too often in the affairs of his southern neighbour Chad. Gaddafi and President Idriss Déby of Chad were particularly close, a relationship with inevitable consequences for the future of the two countries. France has been Idriss Déby’s main source of external support during his twenty years reign but Libya was ally number two, financially and politically.
Libya has enough to do to establish a democratic government and recover from its recent civil war. The northern regions of Chad, previously totally dependent on trade with Libya, will take time to re-establish relations with a neighbour troubled by intertribal strife and lack of border control. Relations with Libya are made the more difficult because a large number of Chadians accused of being Gaddafi’s mercenaries remain incarcerated in jails maintained by Libya militias. There are persistent rumours that they are being tortured.
The instability which followed Gaddafi’s summary execution in his home town of Sirte on 29th October 2011 has affected the nations of the Sahel and catalysed the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali followed by the disastrous rise of an al Qaeda franchise. This undesirable outcome threatened the stability of not only Mali but also neighbouring Niger, the source of yellow cake uranium which supplies French nuclear power stations. If the domino effect is valid Chad, France’s other ex-colonial ally in the Sahel, was in line for an al Qaeda takeover bid. France was, therefore, forced to intervene when the al Qaeda become overconfident and threatened the Mali government in Bamako.
The mobility of the al Qaeda leadership can be in no doubt. The bad lands of the deep Sahara have long been traversed by the Tuareg and the Tebu, people for whom the artificial borders resulting from old colonial acquisitions have little meaning. They are able to traverse great arid regions which they know as well London Taxi drivers their own perplexing city. They share this talent with a number of Bedouin tribes who have traded across the Sahara from time immemorial. Thus it is possible for the al Qaeda franchises and the smuggling and the criminal bands to vanish into inhospitable and inaccessible country only reappear elsewhere to cause trouble. Rebellion and criminality is thus likely to pop up at any place in this vast arena to destabilise fragile economies and make refugees of hordes of people.
The French may dread the possibility of a successful coup against the Déby regime precipitated by the fall of Gaddafi and the instability in the Sahel region. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb must anticipate the possibility with increasing confidence.
Update 2nd March 2013
Al Qaeda leader probably killed by Chadian forces
Update 3rd March 2013
More on the possible killing of an al Qaeda leader by Chadian forces: