Chad says it will recall 600 soldiers, half its contingent, from the multinational G5 Sahel forces in the troubled three-border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where a surge in violence has cost thousands of lives.
“This is a strategic redeployment to better adapt to the organisation of the terrorists,” spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah told the AFP news agency on Saturday.
Chad’s 1,200-strong contingent was deployed there to fight rebel groups, part of forces to which all five of the Sahel region countries – which also includes Mauritania – have contributed since 2017.
“That still leaves around 600 soldiers on the ground,” said Koulamallah. The redeployment had been planned for some time and in cooperation with the G5’s leadership, he said.
“Regarding the situation on the ground, we need a mobile force, hence the withdrawal of some of our forces with heavy weapons,” he said.
Chad’s commitment to fighting the rebels remained intact, insisted Koulamallah.
The three-border region along with central Mali is the area hardest hit by rebel fighters, who have killed thousands of people, soldiers and civilians.
France, also heavily involved in the Sahel, recently announced it was cutting its military presence in the region from about 5,000 to between 2,500 and 3,000 soldiers.
Paris had long been calling for a greater Chadian contribution before its soldiers arrived in February.
Complicating the situation in the three-border region is the intercommunal violence there, with several rival armed groups active.
Some of the groups operating there are aligned with al-Qaeda or with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
They play on the local community tensions to recruit fighters to their forces as well as offering protection in return for payment.
Chad has its own problem with rebel violence in the Lake Chad region that borders Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.
At the beginning of the month, fighters in the region killed at least 26 Chadian soldiers, wounding another 14, eight seriously, in an attack attributed to the Boko Haram group.
Fighters from Boko Haram and a rival splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), have been using the region for years as a base from which to attack troops and civilians in all four countries.
Chad’s military rulers also face a challenge from other armed opposition groups.
Earlier this month, Chad’s self-styled Military Council (CMT), invited armed resistance groups to take part in an “inclusive national dialogue”.
Chad’s military government is led by the son of President Idriss Deby Itno, who died in April fighting rebels in the north. The 37-year-old Mahamat Idriss Deby has consolidated nearly all powers around himself and 14 generals who were close to his father.