French fighter jets on Sunday carried out air strikes to halt an armed group that entered northern Chad from Libya in a column of 40 pickups, the military said, adding that it acted at Chad’s request.
In a statement on Monday, February 4, the military said that Mirage 2000 fighter jets intervened “together with the Chadian army to strike a column of 40 pickups of an armed group from Libya” which had “penetrated deep into Chadian territory.”
“This intervention at the request of Chadian authorities helped hinder this hostile advance and disperse the column,” the statement said.
Aircraft first conducted a ‘show of force’ maneuver above the column in the morning, but “progress continued despite this warning,” and a second Mirage 2000 patrol conducted two strikes in the afternoon, the army said.
The aircraft are based near Chad’s capital N’Djamena, as part of France’s Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism force in the Sahel.
“The column had been spotted at least 48 hours beforehand,” armed forces spokesperson Patrik Steiger told AFP.
The Chadian airforce carried out strikes to try to repel it before asking the French to intervene, he said.
On Sunday morning, French planes made low warning passes over the column but it continued to advance, triggering a decision to scramble more fighters, which carried out two strikes at around 6 p.m. Paris time.
Steiger said the group had crossed 400 km (250 miles) of Chadian territory before being halted “between Tibesti and Ennedi” in the northwest.
He did not identify which armed group they belonged to.
But the spokesperson for Chad’s most active rebel group, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), said that the raid had targeted its men.
Reached by AFP from the Gabonese capital Libreville, UFR spokesperson Youssouf Hamid said the strikes marked a “dangerous turn” by France in Chad’s “internal affairs.”
“The Chadian people will respond. It may take the form of showing hostility towards the French,” Hamid said.
“Paris has become a force that is hostile to the Chadian people,” he added.
Hamid did not give any details about the objective of the incursion.
The UFR was created in January 2009 from an alliance of eight rebel groups.
In February 2008, a tripartite insurgent group, moving in from the east, reached the gates of the presidential palace in N’Djamena before being repulsed by Deby’s forces.
Deby accused Sudan of supporting the attack, a charge that it denied.
Chad, a vast and mostly desert country with more than 200 ethnic groups, has suffered repeated coups and crises since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Deby, a former head of the armed forces, became president of Chad in 1990 after ousting his former boss, Hissene Habre.
Under his presidency, the country has become a leading member in the fight against jihadism in the Sahel.
It is part of the West African coalition fighting Boko Haram and a member of the French-backed G5 Sahel anti-terror alliance, which also includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The Chadian military has carried out several air strikes recently in the arid north against Libya-based rebels.
It also launched an operation last year aimed at “clearing out” illegal gold miners whose arrival in the far north has fomented unrest with locals.
Last week the French Armed Forces Ministry said aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane had conducted air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso.
French aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane made 95 sorties in the January 23-29 period, including 36 fighter sorties, 15 refuelling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties and 44 transport missions.
With reporting from AFP