Chad will deploy some 1,000 troops in Sahel to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to reinforce national armies that, backed by French and European allies, are battling Islamist groups, according to French and Chadian sources. (Image: illustration).
The deployment will be announced during a summit on February 15-16 in the Chadian capital N’Djamena held to tackle the situation in the Sahel, a French presidency official and a senior Chadian security official said.
The move is announced while France, which sent troops to the region in 2013 to repel jihadists who had occupied northern Mali, considers adjusting its military presence. This could entail France pulling some of the 5,100 soldiers that are involved in counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel.
Although France has claimed military successes against Islamist insurgents over the past year, it is searching for an exit strategy. The grinding operation has cost billions of euros and left 55 French soldiers dead, yet violence is persisting with signs it is spreading to coastal West Africa.
The French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Emmanuel Macron could decide to hold off for a few weeks before adjusting his forces as he continues to consult with Sahel and European partners on the way forward.
“We now have very encouraging signals of an imminent deployment of the Chadian battalion,” the official told reporters in a briefing ahead of the summit. Financing from partner countries and equipment from France had been secured.
Chadian troops were last year mostly engaged in fighting insurgents from Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the Lake Chad region.
Chad’s armed forces are among the most respected and battle hardened in West Africa, a reputation forged during decades of regional wars and rebellions, and honed in the 2013 campaign in the deserts of northern Mali.
Their deployment to the tri-border theatre would enable French and other forces to re-orient their military mission to central Mali and to target Islamist leaders linked to al Qaeda.
The Chadian security source said the troops were already en route to the tri-border region, known as Liptako-Gourma, a region slightly larger than Germany, where the allies are trying to wrest back control of terrain from the insurgents.
Niger’s ruling party presidential candidate Mohamed Bazoum told a campaign rally in the Tillabery region, situated in Liptako-Gourma, that Chadian troops will be based there.