Watching the Islamist fight, France supports the military takeover of Chad
France defended the Chadian army’s takeover on Thursday after the battlefield death of President Idriss Deby presented Paris with an uncomfortable choice: to support an unconstitutional military leader or risk undermining his fight against the Islamists.
While the opaque political and commercial ties that once linked France to its ex-colonies in Africa have frayed over the past decade, interests remain intertwined, and under Deby’s regime, Chad was a key ally in the fight against Islamists in the Sahel.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian justified the establishment of a military council headed by Deby’s son on the grounds that stability and security were paramount at that time.
“There are exceptional circumstances,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
Deby’s son Mahamat took control of the country and its armed forces on Wednesday, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution. According to the constitution, the President of the National Assembly, Haroun Kabadi, should have taken over.
Opponents have called the decision a coup.
“Logically, it should be Mr. Kabadi … but he refused due to the exceptional security reasons which were necessary to ensure the stability of this country,” Le Drian said.
President Emmanuel Macron has said on several occasions that he wants to break with a past in which France seemed to carry the shots in its former colonies, and he urged the older generation to pass the baton on to young African politicians.
But after a coup in Mali that saw Paris forced to accept a fait accompli and the return to power of the outgoing presidents of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, this policy was increasingly put to the test. .
Nowhere more than in the Sahel, where France’s 5,100 troops, including a base in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, remain well-established combat groups backed by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State with little chance of power. withdraw.
Idriss Deby was killed on Monday on the front lines of a battle against Libya-based rebels Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which invaded from the north.
Authoritarian leader for more than 30 years, he was nonetheless a pivot of France’s security strategy in Africa. Two years ago, Paris came to its aid by sending fighter jets to stop a rebel advance backed by Sudan.
“The French interpretation of the national interest requires supporting a transition that keeps as much continuity as possible,” said Nathaniel Powell, associate researcher at Lancaster University and author of “France’s Wars in Chad”.
“Mahamat’s military council is probably the best scenario for this kind of situation. The French just hope that military and civilian discontent won’t undermine the transition too much.”
The immediate key for Paris is to ensure that the deployment of a 1,200-strong battalion to the three-border theater between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger earlier this year remains in place. It is considered vital to allow French and other forces to reorient their military mission towards central Mali and to target Islamist leaders linked to Al Qaeda.
Le Drian, who will travel with Macron to Chad on Friday for Deby’s funeral and to meet with military leaders, said the council’s priority was to ensure stability and then focus on a peaceful and transparent transition towards democracy.
The FACT rebels, a group formed by dissident army officers, rejected the army’s plan and vowed to resume hostilities.
Military and diplomatic sources said Paris would closely monitor the offensive and assess whether the group was ready to speak.
Mahamat said the military wanted to return power to a civilian government and hold free and democratic elections in 18 months.
Le Drian, made no mention of the 18-month deadline.
“Eighteen months is too long,” said a French diplomatic source. “Macron will get the message across to African presidents in the region so that they in turn pressure Mahamat so that he is not an idiot.”
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