Peace in Lybia, war in Chad: Islamic Belt from Nigeria to the Sahel zone or fragmentation and new African order?
After the Lybian war parties under the mediation from Russia and Turkey signed a peace treaty, build a transistion government and want to hold elections this year, the war zone and its regional players seem to move to the next front: Chad and the Sahel zone.
In Chad, the polling stations had just closed on April 11th. The residents of the oasis town of Wour in the far north flocked to the markets to stock up on food for Ramadan, which began the next day. After the end of the war in Libya, this year’s fasting month should be a respite, despite the likely sixth term in office of President Idriss Déby, who is unpopular in northern Chad. But clouds of dust approaching from Libya put an end to hopes. A few hours later, fighters from the rebel alliance FACT (Front pour l’Alternance et le Concorde au Tchad – Front for Change and Unity in Chad) conquered the oasis of 30,000 inhabitants and the towns of Zouarke and Zouar.
A convoy of 400 Toyota pick-ups turned the balance of power upside down in just a few days. The fighters were in brand new jeeps and uniforms, residents from Wour told journalists. Chad’s government spokesman Cherif Mahmat Zene confirmed in the capital Ndjamena that the attackers crossed the border from Libya on April 11 at around 6 p.m. without resistance. Since then, they have been approaching the capital Ndjamena, 1,300 kilometers away, every day.
On Saturday April 17th, columns of rebels reached Kanem province directly Northeast of the capital. Videos show the capture of the city of Mao, less than 300 kilometers from Ndjamena. It is true that Chad’s government reported on Saturday that it had repulsed the rebel attack. But at the same time military units cordoned off the capital, and on Sunday the use of French fighter planes was reported to come to the aid of the Chadian government troops – as has already happened several times in the past.
This time the rebels have a strong ally. Libyan military officials report that the kilometer-long FACT column set out three months ago from Sukna in the Central Libyan “black mountains”. The Russian Wagner mercenary troops are stationed not far from Sukna in Libya. Together with the troops of Field Marshal Chalifa Haftar, Sudanese mercenaries and Egyptian specialists, they tried for two years to take the Libyan capital Tripoli from Eastern Libya and to take power in Libya. According to statements by human rights activist Hamsa El Nahja, the Chadian FACT fighters were part of Haftar’s alliance. They were spotted in Gharian, Haftar’s headquarters in Western Libya, and from there moved into several capital districts. Even after Haftar’s defeat last summer, owed to the intervention of the Turkish military on the part of the government in Tripoli, around a dozen modern Russian Mig-29 jets continued to protect Wagner and the mercenaries from neighboring countries in Central Libya. They are stationed at Jufra airport, which FACT fighters protect against attacks by the “Islamic State” (IS) operating in the region.
The political observer Younis Issa suspects that FACT was equipped and trained by Wagner. Toubou military commanders confirm the taz military training by „European“ specialists in Sukna. So is the Libyan War moving to Chad? The triangle between Libya, Chad and Niger, inhabited by the Toubou and Touareg ethnic groups, is one of the most remote regions on the planet and yet crucial for the control of the entire Sahara.
So is the Libyan War moving to Chad? The triangle between Libya, Chad and Niger, inhabited by the Toubou and Touareg ethnic groups, is one of the most remote regions on the planet and yet crucial for the control of the entire Sahara. The foothills of the up to 3,500 meter high Tibesti Mountains have been a magnet for gold miners, smugglers and migrants on their way to Europe since the collapse of the state structures in Libya. Now Tibesti is in the sights of the new great powers facing each other in Libya on the African continent – Turkey, Russia, Qatar, France, China and the United Arab Emirates.
There are French soldiers and fighter jets in Chad, and the country is France’s most important military ally in the region. Shortly before Chad’s elections, French and Chadian commandos were in Wour, whose air base is to serve the G5-Sahel military alliance forged by Paris – a union of troops from Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad to fight together against Islamist rebels. Here France fought against Libya once before The well-prepared FACT attack is a setback for the French G5 Sahel strategy. Younis Issa emphasizes that FACT with Zouar practically controls northern Chad. In the Aouzou border strip between Libya and Chad, which has long been disputed, enormous amounts of gold have been found in recent decades, as well as uranium and rare earths.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s claim to territory on Aouzou led to the almost ten-year “Toyota War” in which France and Libya fought each other in Chad. The then Libyan commander in chief was General Haftar. He lost shamefully. At that time, Toubou soldiers from Chad simply welded machine guns onto their pick-ups because they lacked heavy weapons and drove away the Libyans who were fighting with the latest Russian weapons.
In the new edition of the Toyota War by FACT, however, Younis Issa does not see revenge for Haftar, who was humiliated for the second time by the defeat at Tripoli, but rather the Russian attempt to put Déby under pressure. The President of Chad, who has been in power since 1990, should reconsider his support for rebels in the Central African Republic, whose government is militarily supported by Russia, Issa believes. „Déby’s time is up“ Regardless, the FACT push is Déby’s greatest threat in years. Younis Issa has spoken to key leaders of all ethnic groups in Chad and Libya in the past few days. “They all agree that Déby’s time is up. But the Toubou in particular do not want a war. Because chaos like the one after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya would primarily strengthen the Islamists.”
Issa was Minister of Culture in Tripoli until 2014 and fears that Chad is threatened with a Libya scenario: „Tribal thinking, corruption, weapons from Libya and refugees – an explosive situation for Europe too.“ In the black mountains around the central Libyan Sokna, from where the FACT convoy set off, travelers repeatedly see small IS groups. Among them, German investigators suspect a contact for Anis Amri, the Tunisian who carried out a terrorist attack on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin in December 2016. During the attack, Amri spoke to an ISIS man from Sokna. A few weeks later, the US bombed alleged IS camps there. „Since then, Europe has forgotten the area again,“ wonders Younis Issa.
Some experst think that a Islamic belt will develop from Nigeria via the Sahel zone,lead by Boko Haram and the Ismalic State. However Thomas Lennartz, Director (CO) of Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts and of the Special Warfare Intelligence and Analysis Center. Middle East and Oriental Security Analysts has another perspective in a Global Review interview:
“Africa is a continent on the move, here Islam is currently still trapped within ethnic boundaries, just as the continent is still suffering from its colonial past. Whether Islamist and jihadist movements will manage to unite to form an African umma across ethnic borders is still doubtful to me at the moment, as is the long-term survival of post-colonial structures and interests. I am more inclined to believe that in an Africa of the future we will see a break-up of post-colonial borders and a territorial reorganization as well as a return to African culture and religions, which could then be at the expense of the Abrahamic religions in Africa.
To come back to your question about the strategic consequences, I do not see a homogeneous Islamic bloc, like Prof. Rahr, but rather a few decades of fragmentation within the Islamic world, which does not mean that not-short-term, rapidly changing alliances against one but can also form common opponents against each other. In our case, the West will have to adjust strategically to this with a view to the Islamic world”.