Chad, one of the largest forces fighting in war-torn Mali, has announced it is withdrawing its forces.
President Idriss Deby decided to pull out Chadian troops just three months after the French-led invasion to oust Islamic extremists in Mali began.
“The Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy, guerrilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali,” Deby said in a joint interview to France’s Le Monde newspaper, TV5 Monde and RFI radio.
“Our soldiers will return to Chad. They have accomplished their mission. We have already withdrawn a mechanised battalion,” he added.
Chad has suffered the worst casualties of any nation involved in the war. Three soldiers from Chad were killed in a suicide attack in Mali on Friday. In all, about 30 Chadian troops have died in the conflict in the former French colony.
Deby told French media that Chad has already begun removing the 2,000 soldiers active in Mali and that they would return progressively.
Chadian troops are specially trained in desert combat and have been instrumental in helping French troops oust elements of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the mountanous north Kidal region.
According to GlobalPost senior correspondent in Africa, Tristan McConnell, it wasn’t so long ago that “Chad’s soldiers were being talked of as being exactly the kind of battle-hardened desert warriors that were needed to deal Mali’s jihadists a death blow.”
“Now it turns out they’re nothing of the sort,” McConnell said from Nairobi, adding:
President Deby himself says his troops are not up the job of fighting the “shadowy, guerrilla-style war” in Mali’s inhospitable north. Which begs the question, who is?
France has begun its drawdown of troops and while it hopes to maintain a force of 1,000 in its former colony, the withdrawal of Chad’s soldiers will make it that much harder to secure the considerable military gains against the Al Qaeda-linked militants.
Mali’s army is still far from fit-for-purpose and the regional African force mandate to deploy to Mali is in its infancy. Certainly the West African troops that will make up the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) will be no better able to deal with the jihadists than Chad.
In the longer-run the UN has proposed an 11,000 strong peacekeeping force but, for now, it remains theoretical with no agreed timeline for deployment.