A column of Chadian soldiers – members of the region’s most battle-hardened army – moved north from Niger’s capital Niamey on Tuesday to join French and African forces battling to free northern Mali from the grip of armed Islamic groups.
By Emmanuel Haddad as published by IPS
For the past year, the north of Mali – nearly two thirds of the country – has been occupied by armed groups belonging to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine. These groups have committed abuses against people in the region while strictly applying Islamic law.
“The Chadian army is the best army in Africa at the moment,” said an enthusiastic Boubacar Tidjani, a young Nigerien international relations student, as the arrival of the Chadian troops in Niamey was announced on 18 January. “It’s simple: they have always known war and more, they are proud. I admire them for that.”
The Chadian government will eventually deploy a total of 2,000 soldiers to support French and Malian troops fighting against the militant groups in northern Mali, and more soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will eventually join the operation.
According to the Reuters news agency, Chad’s troops moved along the road to Ouallam, some 100 kilometres from the Malian border, on Tuesday, in order to enter the war zone without first passing through Mali’s capital Bamako.
Their participation has raised hopes of a quick end to the crisis in Mali, where the Chadians’ reputation as warriors precedes them.
“If the Islamists in northern Mali are fanatics, in a few days they will find others in the desert who are even crazier than they are,” warned one of the soldiers from the Chadian contingent on Radio France International on Monday, 22 January.
The Chadian army has experience fighting in a desert climate, suppressing numerous internal rebellions in an arid environment identical to that of northern Mali. Chad also fought and won a border war with Libya between 1983 and 1987.
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