By Jérôme Tubiana & Claudio Gramizzi
Since 2011, Chad, Niger, and Sudan have attempted to control their northern borders, in particular to prevent their rebel movements from finding support in Libya.
In view of a potential resurgence of insurrectionary activity, the Chadian government has sought to forge alliances with Tubu forces in Libya, including former Chadian rebels.
In 2016, for instance, N’Djaména invited ex-MDJT leader Gendey back to Chad and appointed him head of the mobile brigade of the Borkou region, a role that involves monitoring the border. His appointment was undoubtedly an attempt to stop him from joining or supporting a new rebel movement.
Déby has also attempted to co-opt and unite Libyan Tubu leaders. Shortly after Qaddafi’s fall, he reportedly invited Issa Abdelmajid, Allatchi Mahadi, and Barka Wardougou to N’Djaména, gave them money, and promised to supply them with vehicles if they succeeded in forming a joint force, which they did not.
Nevertheless, Déby has since provided financial—if not military—support for other Libyan Tubu leaders, including Barka Wardougou’s successor, Abay Wardougou. Déby also wooed Tubu leader Barka Sidimi, shortly after he took up arms and claimed to be fighting foreign bandits in southern Libya.
In late 2017, together with his cousin Cherfeddin Barkay, Sidimi had attempted to disarm Chadian Dazagada rebels who were stationed in Um-el-Araneb, triggering tensions between Tubu and Dazagada communities.
Shortly thereafter, in January 2018, Sidimi met with Déby in N’Djaména, allegedly to receive money in exchange for siding with the Chadian regime—a move that damaged his reputation, as noted above.
In September 2018, Chadian rebels in Libya claimed to have intercepted and disarmed some 30 to 60 Chadian Tubu and Arab combatants led by Sidimi, accusing them of having obtained
weapons from the Chadian National Army in Wour and of being Déby’s subordinates.
Meanwhile, on either side of the border, the ANT and Hassan Musa Goney’s Tubu Katiba 17 have reportedly established good relations, particularly in the Kouri Bougoudi cross-border gold-mining area.
In mid-2018, however, relations between N’Djaména and the Tubu cooled down considerably.
On 11 August, a Libya-based Chadian rebel group, the Council of Military Command for the Salvation of the Republic, successfully attacked an ANT unit based on the Chadian side of Kouri Bougoudi area.
The rebels claimed to have killed 73 ANT soldiers and captured 45, and to have destroyed 53 ANT vehicles, seized 47 others, and captured more than 200 light weapons.
Although these figures may be exaggerated, the attack—the first serious raid on Chadian territory since 2009—was a serious blow to N’Djaména. The Chadian army withdrew from Kouri Bougoudi to their usual garrisons of Wour and Tanoua.
The CCMSR is not composed of Tubu fighters, nor does it appear to have benefitted from Tubu complicity. On the contrary, at least one Tubu ANT soldier was reportedly killed in the attack, and the raid was condemned by several Tubu leaders.
Nevertheless, as noted above, the Chadian government’s considered retaliation appears to have been directed at the Tubu rather than at the rebels. N’Djaména reportedly ordered two strafing runs on the Miski area, deep in the Tibesti, where no rebel attack had taken place.
First, in August, a jet bombed the area, killing only livestock; in early September, however, Soviet-type S-5 57 mm air-to-ground rockets fired from a Mi-24 attack helicopter wounded three Tubu.
In the meantime, the government abolished three Tubu cantons (traditional chieftaincies) of the Yebi-Bou area (to which Miski belongs) that were known for their criticism of government policies in the area. Then, in October-November, ANT ground forces, backed by helicopters, attacked a group of armed Tubu in the Miksi area.
The attacked group had taken the name of ‘Miski Self- Defence Committee’ and was led by ex-MDJT commanders Jime Chaha, Omar Wuche (aka ‘Omri Boma’) and Orozi Loso. The clash resulted in casualties on both sides.
The Self-Defence Committee had initially taken up arms to expel gold miners from Miski and fought the ANT in December 2017, accusing the military of digging for gold. Though the group refrained from declaring themselves ‘rebels’, the Chadian regime described them as, among other things: ‘CCMSR rebels, mercenaries, terrorists, drug and human traffickers, and highwaymen’.
Interior Minister Ahmat Bachir even notably declared: ‘They are slavers, they are terrorists, they are mercenaries, they are bandits, they are anything else’. As a result, the ‘Miski Self-Defence Committee’ appears increasingly as if it will turn into a new Tubu rebellion.
ANT incursions into Libya and the Wour contingent
There have been a number of (mostly unconfirmed) reports of ANT operations in Libya, none of which appear to have been backed by Libyan Tubu militias. In 2013 Chadian troops looking for Chadian rebels were accused of penetrating into the Kufra area, 100 km north of the border.
In August 2015, during the Chadian army’s intervention in Kouri Bougoudi following clashes between the Tubu and gold miners, Tubu sources claimed that Chadian troops had entered the Libyan part of the gold-mining area.
Two months later, the authorities in Tripoli also accused Chadian troops of having penetrated into Libyan territory, although they did not specify where. The Chadian authorities have denied this allegation.
In late 2015 and early 2016 the ANT reportedly sent more troops to the Libyan border. One of their objectives was allegedly to enter Libyan territory to fight Chadian rebels, but there is no indication that these troops crossed the border.
In fact, one ANT convoy allegedly refused to cross the border because they had not been paid. In late 2016, however, an ANT unit from Wour, in north-western Tibesti, entered a market on the Libyan side of Kouri Bougoudi, immediately north of the border.
The soldiers reportedly searched for and disarmed gold miners, as well as some Tubu fighters of Abay Wardougou’s battalion. The ANT unit seized a car mounted with a 12.7 mm machine-gun from the Tubu militia, only to return it later.
Then, in August and September 2018, after the above-mentioned CCMSR raid on the Chadian side of Kouri Bougoudi, the ANT reportedly chased the rebels into Libyan territory and N’Djaména’s aircraft carried out two strafing runs on the Libyan side of Kouri Bougoudi—this time arguably within the legal framework of the recently signed border security agreement between the GNA, Chad, Niger, and Sudan.
Various, less transparent incidents involving Chadian forces that crossed the border into Libya and Niger have been attributed to the Wour-based unit, which has long controlled the border—and cracked down on drug traffickers—with a considerable degree of autonomy. In late 2016, Libyan forces alleged that the Wour troops had pursued drug traffickers up to the Salvador Pass, in the Libya–Niger–Algeria tri-border area.
The Wour contingent has long drawn attention for ethically ambiguous behaviour regarding drug trafficking. One of the Wour commanders, MDJT veteran Allatchi ‘Koukoula’, was discharged from the army for allegedly reselling seized drugs—or possibly for failing to share the spoils with his superiors.
The Wour soldiers also reportedly bought arms from Libyan Tubu forces, possibly in an attempt to prevent them from reselling the weapons to rebels or jihadist groups. Other reports hold that ANT soldiers or defectors, some of whom were originally based in the Wour garrison, were operating in north-eastern Niger, where they took part in gold mining and road banditry as recently as early 2018.
In spite of this record, Wour was chosen to host the future headquarters of the eastern zone of the regional G5 Sahel force—gathering troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—with command over Chadian troops in Wour and Nigerien forces in Madama.
In August 2018, shortly after the rebel attack on Kouri Bougoudi, the French military announced the transfer of these headquarters from N’Djaména to Wour, with support from France and the European Union.
In Chad, the statement raised fears that the government was trying to exploit French and European anti-terrorist efforts to counter future rebel raids.
Jérôme Tubiana holds a PhD in African studies and has extensive experience as an independent researcher specializing in Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan over the past 20 years.
Claudio Gramizzi is the head of Operations for West Africa with Conflict Armament Research, for which he has undertaken research since 2014. Between 2007 and 2011, he served as arms consultant and arms expert on UN Security Council groups of experts on Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.