KHADIJA PATEL south africa 23 april 2013 01:36
The Congolese rebel group has continued to warn of dire consequences if they are attacked by the newly-assembled United Nations intervention brigade. And if South African troops are indeed part of such an attack on M23, there could be hell to pay. By KHADIJA PATEL.
- South African troops fighting M23: It’s not all about us in Daily Maverick
There is an exception to this. The 2,000-strong contingent from Chad have won the respect of their highly-trained French counterparts with their conduct under fire, and plenty of praise from defence analysts who say that their experience fighting guerrilla rebels at home in similarly hot and difficult conditions make them the most dangerous fighters deployed by the international community in Mali.
Joining French troops after the initial French intervention which clawed back most major cities in the north from the Islamist rebels, Chadian soldiers were involved in the guerrilla campaign’s most significant battle to date, the battle of Isfoghas, where they took the fight to a rebel base in the Isfoghas mountains. Despite sustaining dozens of injuries and 23 deaths, Chad secured the area.
Chadian special forces have also been responsible for claiming the war’s most notable scalps: that of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a key commander of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the notorious militant thought to be responsible for the Algeria gas plant attack (Belmokhtar’s death has not been independently confirmed).
Chad is, in other words, holding up Africa’s end of the bargain when it comes to supporting the military intervention in Mali. But not for much longer.
In an unexpected announcement, Chad’s long-time President Idriss Deby told French reporters that his country would be recalling its contingent.
“Face-to-face fighting with the Islamists is over. The Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy, guerrilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali,” said Deby. “Our soldiers will return to Chad. They have accomplished their mission. We have already withdrawn a mechanised battalion.”
Deby is being somewhat disingenuous. His army may not have the skills to fight a guerrilla-style war in northern Mali, but then few armies in history have distinguished themselves against guerrilla campaigns anywhere. For recent examples, just think of the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fact is, Deby’s army is far more qualified than any of the other countries that are taking part in Afisma, including heavyweight Nigeria, which has a less than stellar record of dealing with militant groups at home (like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or, currently, Boko Haram).
So what’s behind Deby’s decision to pull his troops? It’s hard to say, but a number of factors may come into play: domestic pressures, the situation in the Central African Republic (in which Chad is intimately involved), concern about the recent influx of 50,000 refugees from Darfur.
Whatever his motivation, the result is a big headache for Afisma, and an even bigger one for France which was hoping to pull out or at least withdraw from Mali in the near future. Without Chad’s 2,000 soldiers, this will be a lot more difficult to manage.
Daily Maverick Simon Allison