Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said French troopers stationed in Chad should “prepare for a long war” against regional militants, in a remark that reveals France’s plans for prolonged military presence in its former African colony.
"We must prepare for a long war in an environment that has undergone dramatic shifts,” Cazeneuve told French soldiers in Chad, where he arrived for an official visit on Thursday.
In the African country’s capital city, N’Djamena, Cazeneuve met with Chadian Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and President Idriss Deby to discuss security.
"France will always help Chad surmount its difficulties,” Cazeneuve said after the meeting with Deby.
This is Cazeneuve’s first foreign visit since being appointed prime minister earlier this month.
France has a 4,000-strong contingent in Chad in a declared mission to fight militancy in coordination with the United States.
The so-called Operation Barkhane, which commenced in 2014, aims to combat militant groups across huge swathes of desert land in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert. French troops use drones, equipped with cameras and night vision equipment, for reconnaissance flights across the deserts in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad.
Chad is a key Western ally in the region. It became a French colony in 1900 and, despite gaining independence in 1960, remains a close partner of Paris. In the 1970s and 80s, French troops led a crackdown against the Chadian National Liberation Front, or Frolinat, seeking autonomy in the Muslim-dominated north of the country.
Under the pretext of fighting an upsurge in militancy and concerns over global security, France and the US have recently expanded their foothold in the African country.
Chad is rich in gold, uranium and more recently oil. In 2003, a four-billion-dollar pipeline linked its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast for export to Western countries.