When Chad’s long-serving president, Idriss Déby, was killed in a clash two years ago, his son was quickly elected as the country’s president, violating the succession order set out in the Central African country’s constitution.
The resulting situation presents a serious challenge to the American government, as they should decide whether is the military junta in power in Chad brutal and undemocratic enough to cut off military aid to the country, or does the country have such an important military ally that the Biden administration is turning a blind eye.
After coming to power, Mahamat Idriss Déby, the new president of Chad, maintained his father’s pro-Western position and at the beginning of the year the United States also shared with Chad the intelligence that the Wagner group was preparing to possibly kill Déby. Beyond this, however, the relationship between the two countries did not improve spectacularly.
In October, Chadian forces violently quelled protests that erupted after the junta extended its own rule by two years instead of handing over power to civilians that month as it had promised.
In the spirit of this, the further support to be provided to Chad has another obstacle, namely on the American side.
Supporting dictators and military regimes while neglecting the majority of Chadian citizens is a disastrous policy
said Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The idea that greater investment in the security sector will promote stability in Chad or the Sahel is fundamentally wrong.
The problem outlined by Menendez is fundamentally decisive for the United States, since it has been observed for years that its support for African and Asian regimes in developing countries is primarily of a military, rather than civilian, nature. For example, Washington provided enormous military support to the regimes after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 US invasion, however after a decade, all it achieved was that society felt such a level of antipathy towards these systems that it launched an open armed uprising led by the Islamic State and the Taliban.
The situation is no better in Africa, where in 2020 and 2021 there were successful military coups in Mali, Guinea and then in Sudan, in 2022 in Burkina Faso and The Gambia.
Chad stands out in the region that it also has an elite counter-terrorism unit of 11,000 skilled in desert warfare, making it a particularly valuable ally in the fight against Islamists in the region. The country also uses these units quite actively in the region: it has sent 1,400 soldiers to the northern part of Mali in connection with the fight against jihadist groups, and 1,800 for operations to be carried out on the volatile tripartite border section at the intersection of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. Its 1,100 troops are fighting Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa around Lake Chad, and those troops sometimes chase the militants into Nigeria and Niger.
The commander of Chad’s counter-terrorism unit, Lt. Gen. Abdraman Yousouf Mery, said further instability could be caused by the war raging in neighboring Sudan, which has already forced some 76,000 Sudanese refugees to flee to Chad in the past six weeks. According to the general, American support is needed to manage these conflicts.
Until the elder Déby’s death in 2021, American special operations forces trained Chadian commandos, and the Pentagon supplied the Chadian army with Toyota Land Cruiser pickups and body armor, but since then American support has become much lower.
The Biden administration decided not to declare the younger Déby’s takeover of power after his father’s death a coup, arguing that the president of the Chadian parliament, who was next in line to succeed him, had voluntarily lied.
Calling it a coup d’état would have led to an automatic suspension of US security assistance, as has happened in recent military uprisings in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
Chad also retained the military support of its former colonial power, France. French President Emmanuel Macron was the only Western leader to attend the funeral of the elder Déby, who himself began his three-decade rule in Chad with a coup.
Chad would also need US support to help train an amphibious unit to fight Boko Haram at Lake Chad, which borders Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. American support would also be important because new members of the country’s anti-terrorist unit would have to be trained, which has more than tripled in the recent period.
In relation to Chad, it should also not be forgotten that the Wagner group represented an important regional force that could prevent Russian influence in Africa, which is particularly active in three countries bordering Chad – Sudan, Libya and the Central African Republic – as well as in Mali.
The lesson for the United States is: once again support a military leadership in a critical region in the hope of preventing the advance of the Wagner group and the Islamists, or hold democratic values accountable to an authoritarian regime in the hope that a regime contrary to American interests will not come to power in the future.
Cover photo: The funeral of Chadian President Idriss Déby in N’Djamena on April 23, 2021. Credit: Desirey Minkoh/AfrikImages Agency/Universal Images Group via Getty Images