French Mirage 2000 jets carried out fresh strikes against an armed convoy which crossed into Chad from Libya, after initial strikes failed to halt its advance, the French armed forces said on Wednesday, February 6.
The “proportionate, graduated and precise” interventions, carried out at the request of the Chadian authorities on Tuesday and Wednesday destroyed about 20 of roughly 50 pickup trucks, the armed forces said in a statement.
French authorities have not said which armed group the vehicles belonged to.
The military had said on Monday that Mirage 2000 aircraft on Sunday conducted a ‘show of force’ maneuver above the column, followed by two strikes later in the day. French armed forces spokesperson Patrik Steiger told AFP on Monday that the column “had been spotted at least 48 hours beforehand,” and that it had crossed 400 km (250 miles) of Chadian territory before being halted “between Tibesti and Ennedi” in the northwest.
The new statement offered more detail on events of previous days as well as information on new strikes.
Between February 3 and 6, French Mirage 200 jets “intervened in the north-east of Chad, in coordination with the Chadian army, to counter the incursion of an armed column into Chadian territory,” the statement said, adding that they “aimed to indicate to this column the determination of the Chadian and French authorities to see it halt its progress.”
“From Libya, the armed column, initially about fifty pickups strong, did not respond to the deterrent warnings and strikes of the Chadian air force on February 1 and 2 and then the French Air Force on February 3,” and Chadian and French authorities then decided on new strikes on February 5 and 6.
Supported by a Reaper drone, the Mirage 2000s, which are based near Chad’s capital N’Djamena, as part of France’s Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism force in the Sahel, “enabled a total of about 20 pickups to be put out of action.”
On Monday, the spokesperson for Chad’s most active rebel group, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) Youssouf Hamid said that the raid had targeted its forces, and that the strikes marked a “dangerous turn” by France in Chad’s “internal affairs.”
Hamid did not give details about the vehicles’ objective.
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.
Chad’s President Idriss Déby, a former head of the armed forces came to power in a rebellion against his former boss Hissene Habre in 1990.
In February 2008, a tripartite insurgent group moving from the east reached the gates of the presidential palace in N’Djamena before being repulsed. The UFR was created in January 2009 from an alliance of eight rebel groups.
The French armed forces said that the movement of the armed column into Chadian territory was “likely to destabilize the country.”
Chad has become a important member in the fight against mainly Islamist insurgency in the Sahel.
It is part of the West African coalition fighting Boko Haram and a member of the French-backed G5 Sahel Joint Force, which also includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
“The Chadian armed forces is an essential partner of France in the fight against terrorism, both in Mali, within Minusma, within the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and through its commitment against Boko Haram,” the French armed forces statement said.
The Chadian military has carried out several air strikes recently in the arid north against Libya-based rebels.
Last week the French Armed Forces Ministry said aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane had conducted air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso.
With reporting from AFP