Three weeks after Chadian rebels mounted their third major challenge this year to President Idriss Déby’s troubled regime, the fighting has dwindled to a few isolated gunfights on the barren eastern border with Sudan.
Instead of the regime-toppling attack that the Sudan-based rebels promised in their press releases — something akin to their February offensive that reached downtown N’Djamena on the country’s western border — the spring attacks apparently never reached more than 50 miles inside Chad. In mid-June, rebels briefly occupied a number of towns, only to depart hours later regardless of whether the Chadian army offered up any resistance. Governor Ramadan Erdebou of Biltine, a town of 25,000 just north of the major eastern city of Abeche, said rebels arrived in his town one morning at 11 a.m., and left around 6 p.m. Chadian soldiers showed up, too, only to evacuate after a four-hour stay.
N’Djamena claims its forces have killed more than 100 rebels since fighting began, although this is impossible to verify. A European transport plane, perhaps belonging to the EU peacekeeping force in Eastern Chad, landed in N’Djamena recently carrying around 60 wounded Chadian troops, including some child soldiers and the crew of a Hind attack helicopter that the rebels shot down (pictured) outside Abeche during the early hours of their offensive, according to witnesses at the scene.
The fleeting nature and relatively modest scale of the fighting belies an important new chapter in Chad’s persistent civil conflict, which overlaps with ongoing rebellions in Chad’s neighbors Sudan and Central African Republic. This spring, the 4,000-strong EUFOR peacekeeping force began deploying small groups of troops to several towns in the east, including Abeche, with a U.N. mandate to protect aid workers and Chad’s 250,000 Darfuri refugees. The rebel uprising marked EUFOR’s first major test.