Chad: Gaddafi's Best Ally
The war in Libya has mainly been characterized by inaction. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that, where Libya is concerned, it is not only inaction that is leading this war to becoming similar of the Vietnam disaster, but also that the West is confused on who are its allies and who are its foes.
Clinton said Libya's southern neighbor, Chad, supports efforts to drive Muammar Gaddafi from power, and that Chad has been supporting Gadaffi opponents fighting to topple the Libyan leader.
"The Chadian government does not support Gaddafi," she said. "They have made that very clear. They want to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We are very supportive of their efforts to reach out to the Transitional National Council, which they have been doing in a more sustained way in recent days."
Things, however, seem to be quite different from the picture portrayed by Clinton.
Chadian President and Gaddafi's relation
Gaddafi has a long and complicated history with the neighboring Chad. The colonel brought the Chadian President Idriss Déby to power in 1990, by supporting him financially and militarily. In 1973, Libya's hegemonic ambitions brought the invasion of Chad, occupying and annexing the Aozou Strip, a region considered to be rich in uranium, some 44,00 square miles in the north of Chad bordering the whole 500-mile frontier with Libya. In 1987, Chad, under the leadership of President Hissène Habré, tried to take back the Aozou Strip from Libya. In order to contain Libya's regional aspirations, the United States and France gave military help to Habré. Chad, hence, managed to provide Libya with several setbacks, destroying also an airbase 100 kilometers inside Libya.
In October 1988, Libya and Chad restored diplomatic relations, even though the climate of tension between the two countries continued to exist. In retaliation of the United States and France's support to Habré, the Libyan leader sponsored the bombing of a U.S. Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. In 1990, the dispute over the Aouzou Strip between Chad and Libya was submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On February 3, 1994 the ICJ ruled that the Strip should remain under Chad's sovereignty. On May 30,1994, Gaddafi accepted the ICJ's decision and Libyan troops were pulled from the Aozou Strip.
Habré's government did not last long, however. In November 1990, a rebel offensive against the Chadian ruler was led by Idriss Déby, former army commander under Habré's regime belonging to the Zaghawa ethnic group, supported by Gaddafi. After three months of provisional government, Déby was declared president of Chad.
Déby owes Gaddafi his rise to power, but not only that. On February 2008, in the capital N'Djamena, Chadian rebels tried to topple Déby's regime, but he managed to stop the revolt thanks to Gaddafi's support. The Libyan opposition is now accusing the Chadian president of sending soldiers in order to pay back the debt he owes Gaddafi.
Two Chadian generals allegedly commanding mercenaries in Libya
In February 2011, Libyan revolutionaries accused the Chadian government of having played a vital role in providing "mercenaries" to Gaddafi to prevent his fall, through the overland route to Libyan town of Sabha, just across Chad's border. Ali Zeidan, spokesman for the exiled Libyan Human Rights League (LHRL), claimed that two Chadian generals were commanding the mercenaries, under the orders of the Chad's ambassador to Libya, Daoussa Déby, brother of the Chadian president.
The Chadian government denied providing mercenaries to Gaddafi, Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat saying in a statement:
"These are outrageous and malicious reports. Chad has never sent or authorized the recruitment of its nationals in order to fight in Libya," Mahamat said. "Chad cannot afford such a gesture, as we are concerned about the situation in our neighboring country."
On April 4, 2001, the Saudi-owned newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, reported that Libyan sources claimed the Chadian regime provided the weapons and ammunitions to support Gaddafi in addition to bringing in fighters from African countries. Furthermore, the Arab paper stated that:
"Gen. Ramadan Arobo, governor of [Chad's region of] Borkou and former Chadian security director; Gen. Sair Abadi, governor of [Chad's] Adre Province; and Gen. Tofa, the [Chadian] Republican Guards commander, were supervising the dispatch of African forces and deploying them in the areas between Al-Zawiyah and Tripoli. The same [Libyan] source said that these forces were protecting the road between these two cities, adding that 'the Chadian ambassador in Tripoli, Daoussa Déby, and a bank director are the ones paying the money for bringing in the Africans, particularly from Chad, who are then landed in the [Darfur's city of] Umm Jaras or [in the Chadian city of] Tanda airport at the borders with Libya and then taken by vehicles inside the country.' He pointed out that the elements, which took part in seizing Ra's Lanuf for Gaddafi's forces were Chadian forces."
Mahamat Assileck Halata, Chadian opposition leader, claimed in a February 2011 interview, that the Chadian government sent 1,500 men to fight against the rebels in Libya. These soldiers allegedly flew from N'Djamena to the South of Libya, where, by car, they had been transported to Tripoli. According to the Chadian opponent, Déby helped Gaddafi not only because he owes him his stay in power, but also because without the Libyan leader would be more vulnerable in relation to the Chadian opposition, as along the years Gaddafi has helped Déby to repress Chadian rebel groups.
The Chadian Ambassador to Tripoli, Daoussa Déby, was actually surveying, from Libya, rebel movements coming from the North of Chad to topple Déby's regime.
Omar Yahya, the Chadian president's adviser, rejected the allegations that Chad helped the Libyan leader to suppress the uprising. He instead told the Saudi paper, Asharq Al-Awsat, that his country "is not interfering in the Libyan affair or standing with any party despite the historic relations between Déby and Gaddafi." He has also pointed out that the accusations against Chad did not have evidence.
During the interview, Yahya said the closing of Chad's border with Libya was to stop the infiltration of any al-Qaeda organization elements. In an interview with Pan-African weekly, Jeune Afrique, Déby warned that "the Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Ténéré," a desert region of the Sahara, stretching from northeast Niger to western Chad. Déby's words seem to echo Gaddafi's claims that the terrorist group al-Qaeda masterminded the national uprising in Libya.
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