French airstrikes in Chad targeted 'terrorists', says Chadian defence minister
A series of French airstrikes targeted a group of “mercenaries and terrorists” from Libya, Chad’s defence minister told RFI on Monday. French airstrikes on Sunday struck a column of 40 vehicles that crossed into Chad from southern Libya, according to the French military, which said it got involved at the Chadian government’s request.
French Mirage jets and the Chadian army “jointly intervened” on Sunday evening, according to a statement from the French army. The airstrikes targeted a convoy of 40 pickup trucks of an armed group that had travelled from Libya and was “penetrating deep into Chadian territory”.
The fighter jets, based at the N’Djamena base, first carried out a “show of force” flying low over the convoy. However, the column continued despite the warning and the French air force carried out two airstrikes, said the statement from the French defence ministry.
Chad’s defence minister told RFI that it was a group of mercenaries and terrorists from Libya, including those linked to Al-Qaeda, who attempted to cross into Chad to “destabilise” the country.
“France helped us neutralise this column which was destroyed by our military aircraft,” said Daoud Yaya, head of Chad’s armed forces.
“There’s instability in Libya – it’s full of terrorists,” said Yaya, adding that his government and French forces were ready to the same thing again if necessary. “We have bilateral cooperation with France and France intervened, they helped us to stop this column,” he added.
Internal Chadian affairs
However, the Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR) rebel group told RFI that the French government must stop meddling in Chad’s “internal problems”, saying the strike had targeted its men.
“I find this hostility towards the Chadian people – it doesn’t make any sense, because we think it’s an internal problem,” said Youssouf Hamid, a spokeperson for the Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR) rebel group.
Hamid denied that the UFR group had been in southern Libya, saying it was on the Chadian-Libyan border, not in Libya’s territory. He said two of their vehicles had been destroyed and some fighters injured by the airstrikes.
“When they say that it’s a joint operation, joint in which sense? Was it Chadian pilots who flew the planes, no the pilots are French and they’re French planes,” Hamid told RFI in a telephone interview. “It’s unacceptable, France must review this position.”
UFR was formed in January 2009 by eight rebel groups opposed to Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who came to power in 1990 after ousting his former boss Hissene Habre.