Chadian soldiers on Wednesday, February 19 repelled a rebel incursion into a volatile northern gold-mining region from neighbouring Libya, the army said.
The rebel group, the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), acknowledged the deadly fighting, saying its forces had conducted a “strategic pullback”.
The clash took place early Wednesday near Kouri Bougoudi, a town at the most northern point of the Tibesti Region on the Libya border. The area is in the Tibesti massif, a mountainous gold-mining region where lawlessness and trafficking are endemic.
CCMSR rebels “attacked army positions at 6 am,” army spokesperson Colonel Azem Bermendoa Agouna told AFP.
The army “routed them and is currently pursuing them,” he said.
A senior army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 40 rebels were killed and 38 captured, while three Chadian soldiers were also killed in the fighting.
The CCMSR’s spokesperson, Ali Saleh Hassaballah, reached by phone from Libreville, told AFP that about 50 soldiers had been killed, against the loss of only three rebels.
The starkly contrasting tolls could not be verified independently, as the zone is barred to journalists.
“After more than five hours of heavy fighting, we carried out a strategic pullback of about 30 km [20 miles] because we heard that army reinforcements were arriving,” Hassaballah added.
A gold miner in the area, contacted by AFP, said “the rebels were pushed back.”
Armed groups opposed to President Idriss Deby Itno, who has ruled Chad with an iron fist for nearly three decades, frequently make cross-border raids from Libya.
Created in 2016, the CCMSR describes itself as a political-military opposition movement with “several thousand” fighters.
Last August, a cross-border raid of this kind prompted the government to launch a military crackdown in the Tibesti and declare a state of emergency there -– a measure that it lifted five months later.
In February 2019, the Union of Resistance Forces (UFR) led by Deby’s nephew Timan Erdimi, entered Chad from Libya in columns of pickups.
France – whose Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism campaign in the Sahel is supported by Chad – carried out a series of airstrikes to halt the UFR advance at the Chadian government’s request, although the French defense ministry said the strikes were were not part of Barkhane.
The UFR was created in January 2009 from an alliance of eight rebel groups.
With reporting from AFP