By Michael Bronner, Foreign Policy 26/12/14
On the last night of November 1991, the city of N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, was on edge. President Hissène Habré, who had seized control of the country in a coup eight years earlier, was in power -- but the vice was closing.
Rebels were converging on the city in Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and packed with fighters -- turbaned against the dust and sand, armed to the teeth, and screaming pedal-to-the-floor across the desert. Supplied and funded by Libya, they had crossed into Chad from their camp on the Sudanese border some 700 miles to the east, led by Habré’s former chief military advisor, Idriss Déby.
It was an odd time, then, for a diplomatic dinner party.
The gathering was a last-minute affair organized by the wealthy and well-connected Lebanese consul at the urgent personal request of a key minister in Habré’s cabinet. The presence of some two dozen Chadian elites, French businessmen, and notable expats was really just a ruse to invite the one guest who really mattered: Col. David G. Foulds, the U.S. defense attaché.
The minister pulled Foulds to a quiet corner. “He was chain smoking -- extremely nervous, shaking all over,” Foulds recalled. Habré’s forces had beaten back Déby’s rebels once before, and conventional wisdom, including in Washington, which had long been starstruck by Habré’s military prowess, was that they’d prevail again. But the Americans knew little more than the optimistic picture Habré’s camp was giving them, and the minister knew better. The rebels could reach the capital that night, he said, much sooner than anticipated.
Foulds excused himself and rushed to inform the ambassador, Richard Bogosian, and the CIA’s chief-of-station. They lit up the phones to Washington to seek instructions and, if possible, assistance. “The bottom line is that he was worth saving,” Bogosian said of Habré. “He helped us in ways not everybody was willing to.”
Throughout the 1980s, the man the CIA had dubbed the “quintessential desert warrior” had been the centerpiece of the Reagan administration’s covert effort to undermine Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, who had become an increasing threat and embarrassment to the United States with his support for international terrorism. Despite persistent and increasingly alarming reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and prison abuse carried out by Habré’s regime, the CIA and the State Department’s Africa bureau had secretly armed Habré and trained his security service in exchange for the dictator’s commitment to ruthlessly pound the Libyan troops then occupying northern Chad. If Habré were overthrown, that near-decade-long effort would be undone.
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