The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been increasing its military and economic presence in Chad, a key ally in the Sahel region, amid the escalating conflict in neighbouring Sudan.
According to sources, the UAE has deployed troops to train the Chadian soldiers in warfare and to operate the equipment supplied to them. The UAE has also been providing medical assistance and arms to fighters on one side of the Sudanese civil war, in a covert operation based in a remote town in Chad.
Strengthening bilateral ties
Chad and the UAE have been strengthening and updating their bilateral relations since the beginning of this year. In June 2023, during the official visit to the Emirates of the president of the Chadian Transitional Military Council, Mahamat Déby, military cooperation agreements were signed, which have served as a precedent for this transfer of military equipment.
That month, President Mahamat Idriss Déby of Chad met with the Emirati leader, Sheikh Mohammed, at one of his palaces in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Déby left with a loan for $1.5 billion (Chad’s annual budget is $1.8 billion) and promises of military vehicles that were delivered in August.
In August, the UAE sent a shipment of military vehicles and security equipment to the Republic of Chad, to support its capabilities in combatting terrorism and enhancing border protection.
Before now, the UAE had provided armoured vehicles to Chad. In June 2021, to better handle the rebellion in Chad, Idriss Déby -leader of a new Transitional Military Council (CMT) placed an order for sixty armoured vehicles made in the United Arab Emirates.
The armoured vehicles are the Terrier LT-79 built completely on Toyota 79 chasis.
The UAE has a growing interest in Sahelian security. Since the start of the war in Sudan in April and the decline of French influence across the region, the UAE has increased their support to Chad in an effort to bring stability. In eastern Libya, the Emirates armed the warlord Khalifa Hifter in contravention of an international arms embargo. In Ethiopia, it supplied Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with armed drones at a crucial moment in the Tigray conflict in 2021, effectively turning the tide of the war.
Supporting one side in Sudan
From a remote air base in Chad, the Emirates is giving arms and medical treatment to fighters on one side in Sudan’s worsening war, according to the New York Times.
Under the guise of saving refugees, the UAE is running an elaborate covert operation to back one side in Sudan’s spiraling war — supplying powerful weapons and drones, treating injured fighters and airlifting the most serious cases to one of its military hospitals, according to a dozen current and former officials from the United States, Europe and several African countries.
The operation is based at an airfield and a hospital in a remote town across the Sudanese border in Chad, where cargo planes from the Emirates have been landing on a near-daily basis since June, according to satellite imagery and the officials, who spoke on the basis of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
It is the latest example of how the UAE, an American ally in the Persian Gulf, has been using its vast wealth and sophisticated armory to position itself as a key player and sometimes kingmaker across Africa.
In Sudan, the evidence suggests it is backing the Rapid Support Forces, or R.S.F., a powerful paramilitary group that has been linked to the Russian mercenary group Wagner and accused of atrocities. The R.S.F. has been battling the nation’s regular military in a civil war that has left 5,000 civilians dead and displaced more than four million people since April.
The Emiratis, however, insist that their operation at the border with Sudan is purely humanitarian.
Since planes began to arrive in the Chadian town, Amdjarass, the Emirati state news agency has published images of the gleaming field hospital where, it says, over 6,000 patients have been treated since July.
Chadian arms supply diversification
Chad is seeking alternative arms suppliers different from the usual Eastern bloc namely Ukrainian and Russian to modernize its capabilities.
Recent Chadian military procurement highlights the policy of pivoting from Eastern Europe’s sphere of influence in the area of military equipment.
The country recently acquired 30 heavily upgraded Type 59G main battle tanks from China to supplement the outdated Russian-made T-55 main battle tanks in use on the frontline.