Wagner Group Targets Chad for Sahel Expansion
In its ongoing attempt to expand across the Sahel, Russia’s Wagner Group may choose Chad as its next target. Unlike other Sahelian countries, which have invited Wagner mercenaries, Chad could be Wagner’s first attempt at overthrowing a sitting government, according to analysts.
Wagner already has footholds in the Central African Republic, Libya and Sudan. Chadian rebel groups overlap with Wagner forces in the CAR and in Libya, where the rebels joined eastern Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s attempt — aided by Wagner — to take full control of the divided country.
A senior official from an African country told The Wall Street Journal that Chad has been informed about intelligence regarding a Wagner-supported threat to its government.
Chad “takes that threat very seriously,” said the African official. “It like the sword of Damocles.”
In January, pictures of dead Russians appeared on social media in the region where the CAR, Chad and Sudan meet — an area rich in mineral wealth — after clashes with gunmen in the mining areas, according to Radio Dabanga.
According to The Wall Street Journal, intelligence reports indicate that rebels with FACT, Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad, have left Wagner’s Libyan base near al-Jufra and moved south toward the porous border with Chad.
Wagner also has been working closely with Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces controlled by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the deputy leader of Sudan’s ruling junta.
Hemedti traveled to Moscow in February 2022 to strengthen the RSF’s ties with Russia and Wagner. The RSF operates along Sudan’s borders with the CAR and Chad.
In 2021, former Chadian Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene warned the international community about the threat of Wagner forces encircling his country. He also said Wagner had trained the rebel fighters who killed former President Idriss Déby Itno in April of that year.
“There are Russian mercenaries present in Libya, who are also present in the Central African Republic,” Zene told Agence France-Presse that year. “We have reason to be concerned about the presence of these mercenaries.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, recent intelligence reports suggest that Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin plans to provide Chadian rebel groups with the materiel and operational support they need to overthrow Chad’s government led by Mahamat Idriss Déby, the transitional president and son of the late president.
Chad is rich in natural resources, most notably oil. Wagner’s presence in other Sahel countries has led to mining operations that funnel resources back to Moscow to finance Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the CAR, where Wagner is ubiquitous, mercenaries have killed or driven out artisanal miners and taken over processing operations across the northern and eastern regions. In Sudan, Wagner has smuggled millions of dollars in gold from the country.
Wagner forces also operate disinformation campaigns in the CAR and Sudan that support their allies.
In early 2022, Chadian rebel group the Union des Forces Républicaines (UFR) issued an appeal on social media asking CAR leaders to persuade “Russians” to enter Chad and drive out Déby, according to the United Nations. CAR officials and Wagner denied at the time that they had plans to do so.
In recent months, Sudanese junta leaders have visited Chad to discuss security issues along the border. In late January, Hemedti deployed the RSF in conjunction with Wagner mercenaries to prevent a purported coup attempt against the CAR government.
RSF forces remain in place along the border with Chad despite Sudan military junta ruler Army Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s call for them to withdraw so the Sudan Armed Forces can take their place, said Tijani al-Tahir Karshoum, deputy governor of Sudan’s West Darfur province, which borders Chad.
“The Rapid Support Forces deployed at the border with Chad have not been replaced by the Sudanese army. They are still there with the regular forces in the restive areas,” Karshoum told the Sudan Tribune newspaper.
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