Chad on front line of anti-jihadist fight in Sahel

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Chad, hit on Monday by two deadly suicide attacks, is on the front line of the fight against jihadists in both Nigeria, home of the Boko Haram group, and Mali.

– Fighting the jihadists –

A long-standing adversary of the jihadists, President Idriss Deby Itno, in power since 1990, has committed troops to the fight.

They first joined French forces in 2013 to counter the advance of jihadists who had occupied northern Mali the previous year.

In February this year they then launched a ground offensive in neighbouring Nigeria, leading the fight against the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which is allied to the jihadist Islamic State group and which is destabilising the countries bordering Lake Chad.

Chad has committed around 5,000 soldiers to the operation, according to military sources.

– N’Djamena: centre of Sahel anti-terror fight –

In August 2014, France reorganised its military presence in the region launching Operation Barkhane, devoted to the fight against terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region.

The force is headquartered in the Chadian capital, where France already has a large military base.

N’Djamena will also host the headquarters of the joint military force created on June 11 by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin against Boko Haram.

– Poor, despite oil –

The mainly desert nation of Chad in north-central Africa is almost three times the size of the US state of California.

It remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite its oil reserves, the main source of income. Production reached 100,000 barrels per day in 2013, according to the US energy department.

The oil revenues have allowed Chad to modernise its army and upgrade its road network, but civil society and the opposition have called for a better distribution of the oil wealth towards the population.

More than three-quarters of the population depend on subsistence crop farming and cattle-raising, living on less than $2 a day.

– A turbulent history –

The country has suffered years of conflict and instability since it gained independence in 1960. Since 1965 the north has lived through an armed rebellion led by Frolinat (National Liberation Front).

In 1980, civil war broke out in the capital between supporters of Goukouni Weddeye, president of the transitional government of national unity who was backed by neighbouring Libya, and his defence minister Hissene Habre, who seized power in 1982 after a two-year struggle.

Government forces launched an offensive in the north in 1987 to recapture a region held by Libyan troops. They took back all but the Aouzou Strip, which was finally returned to Chad in 1994, after 21 years of Libyan occupation.

In December 1990 Habre was overthrown by his former military advisor Deby. In June 30, 2013, Habre was arrested in Dakar and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The trial is set to open on July 20 in Senegal.

– Deby’s regime under threat –

Deby began his fourth term in office in 2011 after being elected in 1996, 2001 and again in 2006, following a modification of the constitution in elections boycotted by the opposition.

Since late 2005 his regime has been faced with rebellions, especially in the east of the country, which borders the Sudanese region of Darfur. In 2008, rebels from the border region came close to overthrowing the Deby regime, briefly entering the capital before being pushed back with the help of French forces.

– Population –

12.8 million inhabitants in 2013 (World Bank) of which most are Muslims, with large Christian and Animist minorities.