Chadian President Idriss Deby said a column of rebels which had sought to cross into the country from Libya had been “destroyed” in a series of strikes carried out by French warplanes.
Deby told a cabinet meeting “the column of mercenaries which tried to make an incursion into Chadian territory has been completely destroyed,” according to an official account on Thursday, February 7.
“On the government’s side, there was no loss of life or equipment,” it said.
The French military has said Mirage 2000 jets struck an armed convoy on three days this week, destroying about 20 of roughly 50 pickup trucks.
An anti-Deby rebel group, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR), crossed into northern Chad with “three columns” of vehicles, according to one of its members, Mahamat Doki Warou.
UFR spokesperson Youssouf Hamid added it was “normal” for Deby “to make such claims” about attacks, “but this is not the reality on the ground.”
The French strikes were carried out from a base near the capital N’Djamena with the support of a Reaper drone. French forces are based in Chad as part of the Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism force in the Sahel.
Update February 7 The French defense ministry said the action in northern Chad is not part of Operation Barkhane, France24 reported.
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 Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar has said that the rebels were fleeing its offensive in southern Libya.
Chad’s Defence Minister Daoud Yaya Brahim and armed forces chief General Seid Brahim left on Thursday for Amdjarass, in the northeastern region of Ennedi, an army spokesperson said.
Separately, a senior Chadian official said that military units based in Ounianga and Fada, also in the Ennedi region, had been heading towards Bao, which is in the Ennedi region, since Tuesday.
The UFR’s Doki said that fighters were “in the vicinity” of Bao as of Wednesday.
The French intervention was criticized on Wednesday as a “violation of international law” by two Chadian opposition leaders.
French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly dismissed the accusations, saying, “as far as law is concerned, this intervention was made in response to a formal request for help from a sovereign country.”
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 in 1990 after ousting his former boss, Hissene Habre.
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.
Last week the French Armed Forces Ministry said aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane had conducted air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso.
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 repelled by Deby’s forces.
G5 Sahel leaders again call for UN assistance to fund Joint Force
With reporting from AFP