Chad: the Chadian army shaken by the death of a hundred men

By killing a hundred Chadian soldiers overnight, the jihadist group Boko Haram has tarnished the reputation of an army presented by its president Idriss Déby Itno as a bulwark against terrorism in Africa.

"Bohoma will remain as a scar for the army," said a Chadian officer, who requested anonymity.

Monday morning, around 5:00 am, fighters of the jihadist group Boko Haram stormed the Bohoma peninsula, in the Lac province, where a Chadian army base is located.

In this area on the border of Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, attacks have multiplied in recent months, the jihadists taking advantage of their knowledge of this marshy terrain dotted with a multitude of islands.

Accustomed to repelling simple raids or suicide attacks, the army had to face more than seven hours of combat on Monday.

At least 98 soldiers have died, according to the latest official assessment, the heaviest defeat for the Chadian army in a day.

Immediately after the end of the fighting, President Idriss Déby Itno went on the spot to coordinate and direct the operations against the jihadist group: "I refuse this defeat and the response must be lightning," he said on television.

Dark mine, he admits that his army has not suffered such losses in a day since he took the head of the country, almost 30 years ago.

Figure of the warrior

Same day, but on the other side of the border, Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency was born in 2009, also suffered a bitter defeat.

The attack on an army convoy by another branch of the jihadist group, that of the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), killed at least 70 soldiers. But there, no displacement of the executive.

The Chadian president "takes the figure of the warrior", explains Marielle Debos, researcher at Paris-Nanterre University, who underlines that the army has a particularly important place in Chadian society.

Coming to power by arms, President Déby presents himself as a soldier in his country, but also internationally, where he takes care of his image as the ideal ally of the West in the fight against jihadism.

"We must deconstruct the myth of the invincibility of the Chadian army," says Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, director of research at the Research Institute for Development.

According to him, Mr. Déby's forces are more "warriors than disciplined and equipped soldiers".

And they have already proven their lack of efficiency, especially in 2008, when rebels entered the capital and failed to oust the president from power. He owed his salvation only to the military intervention of France.

"There is no doubt that it is one of the most experienced armies in the region even if that does not mean that it operates according to Western standards", tempers Vincent Foucher, researcher at CNRS-Sciences Po Bordeaux.

"But the Chadian army is engaged on several fronts at the same time and the Lake has apparently been cleared in recent times," he added.

"This regime has many other concerns than the rebels of Lake Chad, who have little chance of overthrowing the regime," said Perouse de Montclos.

As in the north of the country, where rebel groups stationed on the other side of the border in Libya, seem determined to drive President Déby out of power.

Degarned by Niger

Its troops are also engaged outside the country, especially in the Sahel. Chad has again promised in recent months to send a battalion (480 people) to the region of the three borders, between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, to fight against jihadist groups.

A multiplication of fronts which could explain the defeat of Bohoma Monday.

"The Bohoma garrison was stripped, the troops were heading for the three borders," said a senior officer on condition of anonymity.

"Why have we reduced the equipment in such a risky military post?" Wonders Succès Masra, a political opponent who also relays soldiers' complaints about the lack of means, including with recurrent delays in sales.

To finance it, the president "must hire his army, by sending him outside, as in the area of ??the three borders", explains Mr. Pérouse de Montclos.

But "we will have to rethink the redeployment of troops," said Remadji Hoinathy, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

According to him, in one attack, "Lake Chad becomes the focus where the fire is most intense".

Because, he notes, the assault on Boko Haram "demonstrates that the group has fairly strong military capabilities", in particular "in terms of information and intelligence".