BY ADWOA AWUAH ABOAH ’18
Chad withdrew hundreds of troops in the first weeks of October from Niger, where they were helping local forces fight Boko Haram insurgents, according to The Atlantic. This occurred after Chad was listed in the US travel ban. The loss of troops from one of the region’s most powerful security forces will be a major setback to the region-wide fight against the insurgency.
On Sept. 24, President Trump expanded the list of countries covered by his original travel ban to include citizens from Chad, North Korea and Venezuela. Newsweek reported that the Trump administration cited Chad’s inability to share sufficient public-safety and terrorism-related information as the reason for the ban, and that multiple terrorist groups were active in the country and surrounding region.
Currently, the U.S. and other regional forces are embroiled in a challenging fight against Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist terrorist group based in Nigeria. The insurgency, which began in 2002, has escalated significantly over the years with the group causing large-scale violence not only in Nigeria but also in neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. According to an Al Jazeera report, the violence resulted in more than 32,000 deaths and over two million displaced people since its start. At its peak in 2016, the sect conducted a massive attack on the Niger town of Bosso. In response, Chad sent 2,000 troops to help fight the insurgents.
Chad is well-known for having one of the strongest militaries in West Africa. Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has made national security a priority of his administration, reports The Global Observatory.
According to BBC, when Boko Haram began seizing and controlling territory in northeastern Nigeria in 2014, Washington looked to Chad as part of a regional response. The militants lost almost all of their land in 2015 largely due to a regional Multinational Joint Task Force led by the Chadian administration, reported the Institute for Security Studies. This force included troops from four other countries as well as a coordination cell headquartered in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital, which is partly staffed by US and French experts advising the campaign, reports the Daily Beast. In addition to leading the fight against Boko Haram, Chad’s military is countering Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Jihadists in the Sahel.
When the travel ban was announced, Chadian officials warned that it could affect its security commitments, or lead to the withdrawal of troops, according to Reuters. Chad’s communications minister, Madeleine Alingué, stated that the ban undermines Chad’s image as well as the good relations between Chad and the U.S., particularly in fighting terrorism in the region.
The withdrawal of troops weakens the region-wide effort to defeat Boko Haram. Al Jazeera reports that this year has seen an increase not just in suicide bombings, but also in large successful attacks on Nigerian military convoys and bases by the sect. The region runs the risk of Boko Haram becoming even more emboldened by this withdrawal. According to Reuters, residents of Niger’s Diffa region said there has already been an impact as there has been a string of attacks and an increase in banditry by insurgents since the troops started leaving.
With the withdrawal of troops, Idriss Déby is aiming to show the Trump administration just how valuable Chad is as a counterterrorism partner in the region. Déby has previously been very blunt with Western partners in regards to money and diplomatic relations. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, his threat has always been to scale back Chad’s regional security commitments.
If this ban is not overturned quickly, the Chad administration may take even more dramatic steps such as entirely ending its cooperation with the United States and other regional militaries involved in the fight against the insurgency. Both the Multinational Joint Task Force and coordination cell could be completely dismantled. If so, Boko Haram will grow larger and cause more destruction across the region.