DAKAR, SENEGAL —
Chadian troops have played a decisive if at times problematic role in at least two African conflicts in the past few years; northern Mali and the Central African Republic. Some analysts say they may be the region's best hope to turn the tide against Boko Haram, but others are more cautious. The issue has become a hot topic as African leaders prepare to set-up a 7,500 troop regional force to fight the militants.
Chad is taking the fight to Boko Haram in Cameroon and in Nigerian towns along the border.
Analysts say Chad could tip the balance against Boko Haram, but caution not to expect Chadian troops to stay for the long haul.
Central Africa Director for the International Crisis Group, Thierry Vircoulon, says Chad wants a blitz operation like a strong punch, "fast and hard." He says that is evident in the large number of troops and aerial support the country has deployed. He says the Chadian army runs into logistical trouble with longer deployments. In northern Mali, he says, Chad was seen struggling to resupply and pay soldiers.
This is the third time in two years the Chadian army has rushed to the rescue of its neighbors. The two others interventions, Mali and the Central African Republic, had wildly different outcomes.
Chad withdrew from Mali in a blaze of glory, having played a decisive role in retaking the north and crippling AQIM terrorists during the first three months of the French-led intervention in 2013. A year later, Chadian troops pulled out of the CAR amid a hail of accusations they had been too cozy with Seleka rebels and that they fired on civilians. They were even accused of firing on fellow African Union troops.
Analysts say the risk of indiscipline is all the more reason Chad may want to keep this operation short.
Good fighters but no so good at stabilization
Central Africa expert at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research Roland Marchal says “Chadian soldiers are good fighters.” “As the French military says, they are warriors. They are very good in battle. They are not so good at what comes next – stabilization,” notes Marchal.
Chad President Idris Deby has pumped the country’s oil wealth into the military. People cheered as Chadian troops rolled into Cameroon awash in vehicles and weaponry.
President Deby said simply that Chad "cannot remain indifferent” to the threat of Boko Haram.
Many see in Deby’s decision an implicit displeasure with the Nigerian military, which has lost key towns and vast swathes of territory to the militant Islamist group since 2013. Boko Haram has become a regional menace launching attacks in Cameroon and threatening trade routes to N’djamena.
Nigeria insists this is a joint effort and it is still running the show, but analysts are skeptical.
Analyst Yan St. Pierre runs the Berlin-based security firm MOSECON. He says there’s another question to consider when gauging Chad’s potential impact, not just “how long” but “how far.”
“How deep within Nigerian territory will Chadian troops be allowed to go? And how deep is Chad willing to go? Is there more of a containment approach right now? Saying 'OK, we will just make sure the borders to Cameroon, to Niger, to Chad, that Boko Haram is contained within Nigeria,” says St. Pierre.
MOSECON tracks the Boko Haram insurgency closely. St. Pierre says it appears the group has pulled much of its force away from the borders, but still out of easy range for the Nigerian military.