The Republic of Chad, considered something of a military power in Central Africa, announced today that it would be withdrawing all its troops from the African Union mission in neighboring Central African Republic (CAR).
It is worth noting that the New York Times’ first version of the story from this morning described the announcement as “an apparent blow to international efforts to bolster peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic.” (You can read the early version here.) But the story had become more nuanced by the afternoon:
“The pullout solves an immediate problem for the United Nations, which plans to redeploy some of the African Union forces into a peacekeeping mission under a United Nations mandate in the coming months. The withdrawal means that the world body no longer faces the awkward choice of whether to accept Chadian forces as part of that mission…But it also potentially creates new logistical and political problems. The United Nations must find additional troops at a time when several peacekeeping missions worldwide are struggling to fill their ranks.”
This improved depiction strikes a better balance as we consider both the fragile AU operation in CAR (known as MISCA) and the growing anxiety in CAR, the wider region, and the international community over Chad’s military presence. The decision comes five days after a widely-reported incident of Chadian troops opening fire on civilians in Bangui and accusations building for months that Chad is aiding and abetting Muslim rebels against Christian “anti-balaka” militias. On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon entered the fray, reminding “all those who are involved in spreading the violence, including those directly or indirectly supporting or otherwise facilitating the actions of armed groups, that they will be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”
This is the second conflict in two years in which Chadian forces have entered the fight just long enough to announce a quick withdrawal. In neither instance were N’Djamena’s interests altruistic. But while Chad’s withdrawal from Mali came on the heels of disproportionately high casualties in two months of fighting (it would later return under a new UN mission), today’s announcement coincides with a growing sense that, as Chad’s foreign military grumbles, “Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering in CAR.” In other words, Chad retreated from Mali to satisfy a domestic constituency (local elites and the military itself), but its withdrawal from CAR may reflect a sense in N’Djamena that it had to save face with the region and international community.