IR Aouzou Strip Essay

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Aouzou Strip is a strip of land along the Chad-Libya border, located in the Sahara Desert. This region is named after the oasis town of Aouzou, which is the principle population center in the region. The strip runs along the entire (now Chadian) side of the boundary and is approximately 100km wide.

Historically, this region was not under any meaningful jurisdiction. The locals tribespeople are nomadic Tebu, following the availability of water (Menas, 2014). In the Aouzou Strip, water availability is sporadic, and wells tend not to hold water all year. The oasis itself provides water for small plantations of date palms and vegetables during what little rainy season exists. The international boundaries in the region were established by agreement between the colonial powers France (Chad) and Italy (Libya). The territory, originally held by France, was awarded to Italy after World War I (Hodder, Lloyd & McLachlan, 1998).

Histories of the Belligerents

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Libya gained independence from Great Britain in 1951. It declared this independence as a kingdom. The UK, still recovering from the Second World War, did not contest the declaration, as Libya had no meaningful wealth at the time. Oil was discovered in 1959, almost immediately making Libya a wealthy state, and this wealth allowed it to begin building a military. The military would launch a coup in 1969 under Muammar Qaddafi. Libya built an air force base in the south to defend its frontier, at Maaten al-Sarra.

Libya's population base is in the north, along the Mediterranean Coast. The southern desert is inhabited by Berber tribes, but it sparsely populated as it has little water. The southern frontier, therefore, was not subject to heavy Libyan occupation, to the point where even its military commanders had little knowledge of the area.

Essay on IR Aouzou Strip Assignment

Chad gained its independence from France in 1960, with the power base being in the more populous south of the country. By 1965, the country was in a state of civil war, fighting mainly between Muslims and the government forces. That conflict dragged on for years, crippling Chad economically, even more than it already was. By 1979, Chad had very little central authority. France was in the process of washing its hands of Chad at the time, and Libya decided to become involved in the conflict, in support of the Muslim groups from the north of Chad. There had been some prior involvement of Libya in Chadian politics and conflict, but the country's involvement at this time drew a strong response from Chadian forces, who had some French support against Libya. The Aouzou Strip at this time gained attention because it was seen as the base of Libyan incursions into Chad. Chadian forces became unified in their opposition to Libyan involvement in the internal conflict and began engaging with Libya in the north.

Chad is demographically diverse, with dozens of prominent ethnic groups. Geographically, the north is in the Sahara Desert and very sparsely populated. The oasis town of Aouzou is one of the biggest population centers with only a few thousand people. The Sahel belt has more people and the south, in the savannah area, is where most of the people in the country live. While Chad is split religiously, the Christian population is entirely in the south while northerners are Muslim, or tribal. Arabs from Libya seldom visited the north of Chad, which had slightly better links with the African areas to the south, a factor that was critical in the direction of the conflict.

Basis of Claims

France had ceded the strip in 1935 as part of a package for Mussolini to feed his dreams of empire while maintaining allegiance to the Allies, with whom Italy had fought in the First World War. Evidently, the strip was itself created by the geography of the area, where there are two physical borders, almost identical in appearance and the French and Italians had different interpretations of which was which. The French border became de facto during World War Two, when the French used its Chad colony as a base of operations against the Italians in the desert (Jacobs, 2011).

The specifics of ownership of the Aouzou Strip were unclear. Chad based its claims to ownership on the 1955 Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighbourliness, and produced evidence of a series of exchanges that it believed showed that the territory was part of the French colony at the time. Libya argued that the 1955 agreement was the product of coercion, as it was a weak, newly-independent nation, negotiating with a colonial power. The Libyans argued that a 1972 agreement between Chad and Libya was specific and clear that the Aouzou Strip belonged to Libya. The interwar agreement between France and Libya provided little clarification -- the treaty did give the strip to Italy, from whence it would naturally have passed to Libya, but Italy never occupied the strip. Thus at the time there was a de facto vs. de jure argument to be made. Libya eventually occupied the strip, but Chad in the later proceedings at the International Court of Justice was given the territory based on the 1955 agreement (Menas, 2014).

The Toyota War

The conflict between Libya and Chad had been ongoing since the late 1970s but in 1983 the tone of the conflict had changed. Chadian forces were more unified in their opposition, and began to conduct a mobile war against Libya in what is today northern Chad. In 1984, an agreement was reached between France and Libya to both exit Chad's conflict. Further Libyan influence in the late 1970s had essentially drawn France back to Chad, with the French supporting the southern forces and the Libyans supporting the north. While both countries agreed to exit the conflict, Libyan forces remained in the north of the country (Azevedo, 1998).

A period of relative quiet existed for a couple of years, but during that period the north Chadian forces became alienated from Qaddafi, and the southern Chadian forces changed their tactics. They began to engage in a mobile conflict, using Toyota trucks equipped with rockets and anti-aircraft weaponry on the back. The Libyan military had been built to provide infantry and air support to the north Chadian forces. At this point in the conflict, without the north Chadian forces and unable to deal with the new form of warfare with which they were faced from the Chadians, they became vulnerable.

The Chadians took a communications base at Fada, just outside the Aouzou Strip. This caught the attention of the Libyans, but they had limited knowledge of the region, relative to the Chadian forces. That knowledge of the terrain allowed for Chadian forces to utilize the mobile strategy, as they were able to find water at various spots in the desert. They were able to launch several assaults on the Libyan forces over the first few months of 1987.

Chad then targeted the Aouzou Strip. In July, 1987, the conflict escalated. Libya sought to regain territory it had lost over the preceding months. They pushed southward, until they met strong resistance from FANT, or Forces Armees Nationales Tchadiennes. FANT, with its superior knowledge of the terrain, was able to surround the Libyan forces and then drive them northwards. FANT decided to push further than it had been before, driving the Libyans back beyond Aouzou, taking the town for Chad. In part, the Chadians were highly motivated, but they also had French air support that neutralized the otherwise overwhelming superiority of the Libyan Air Force.

Aouzou Conflict

Libya, already stung by a series of defeats in 1987, renewed its efforts to take back territory from the Chadians. At this point, the French were ceasing their air support, and that allowed the Libyan Air Force to turn the tide again, and Libya pounded the FANT positions, and settlements in the region. French President Mitterand had withheld air support in response to the taking of Aouzou, which was against his wishes (Nolutshungu, 1995). In a matter of weeks, Libya recaptured the town, the Chadians unable to withstand Libyan air superiority without the support of the French.

The Chadians knew that without French air support, they would never defeat the Libyans as long as the Libyans had an air presence in the region. They knew that they were superior on the ground to the Libyans, because of their knowledge of the terrain, but needed Libya's air advantage to be neutralized. Thus, the Chadians, led by the country's President, determined to attack the Libyan air base at Maaten al-Sarra, which was well inside Libyan territory, far beyond the Aouzou Strip. The Chadians took the base on September 5, 1987, having launched a surprise attack. The Libyans had been expected Chadian forces to attack Aouzou to try to take back that town, so were not expecting an assault on their air base, which was located well within Libya.

The battle or Maaten al-Sarra was the last battle of the conflict. Libya knew that it could not win on the ground, and without its… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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IR Aouzou Strip.  (2014, November 27).  Retrieved July 15, 2020, from

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"IR Aouzou Strip."  November 27, 2014.  Accessed July 15, 2020.