- Russia ordered its troops back from the Ukrainian border by May 1, saying they’d shown their capabilities during “exercises” there. However, Russia plans to leave some symbolic armored vehicles in field camps near the border—perhaps as a reminder that it could easily and quickly return.
- Alexey Navalny said he would end his weekslong hunger strike after doctors warned he could imminently die from it. His supporters continue to rally in cities across Russia, defying arrest since protests are currently illegal.
- The Czech Republic ordered another 63 Russian diplomats to leave in yet another escalation over the 2014 sabotage of weapons depots that triggered the first wave of expulsions last week. This round of departures—which Prague demanded before the end of May—would leave Russia’s embassy in Prague with the same number of staff the Czech embassy in Moscow has, which would probably hamper Russia’s intelligence operations there.
- The U.S. military began winding down local contracts and shipping equipment out of Afghanistan ahead of its withdrawal that begins May 1.
- Meanwhile, CENTCOM head Marine Gen. McKenzie bluntly testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I am concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave, the ability of the Afghan Air Force to fly, in particular, after we remove the support for those aircraft.”
- The Biden administration signaled a willingness to ease certain sanctions on key parts of Iran’s economy like oil and finance in order to advance nuclear talks, but didn’t offer to lift any specific sanctions yet. Indirect negotiations will resume next week in Vienna.
- France expressed support for the late Pres. Deby’s son taking over leadership of a ruling military council because of “exceptional circumstances” that call for stability and security, even though Chad’s constitution dictates that National Assembly Speaker Haroun Kabadi should have taken over (the French Defense Minister says Mr. Kabadi refused to lead).
- ANYTarticle pasted below has more detail on the Libya-trained rebels who reportedly killed Pres. Deby.
- Pres. Guaido approved the release of $152 million from the Venezuelan Central Bank’s frozen Citibank accounts in the U.S. Of that, $100 million will go to COVAX vaccines, and another $23 million is slotted for “defending democracy,” whatever that means (Guaido’s office hasn’t provided further detail). That leaves about $97 million in the account: including the latest funds, Guaido’s opposition will have withdrawn $245 million.
- The House voted along party lines (216-208) to make Washington, DC the 51ststate, but the Senate will probably fail to find the 60 votes required for passage—some centrist Democrats are even hesitant to support it, and Republicans firmly oppose it because DC statehood would add two more Democratic senators.
- Pres. Biden plans to announce tax hikes on the rich – including a near-doubling of capital gains taxes to 39.6% for people earning more than $1 million – next week. The proceeds would pay for major investments like universal pre-K education and paid leave for workers. Stocks fell on the news.
- World leaders made ambitious new commitments at the virtual climate summit that started yesterday. Pres. Biden announced a plan to halve U.S. emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, and PM Trudeau of Canada pledged a 40-45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. Even China promised to “strictly limit increasing coal consumption.”
- Jordan released 16 of the 18 people arrested earlier this month for allegedly helping former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein plot to undermine state security. Hamzah seems contrite and pledged allegiance to his half-brother, King Abdullah II, but some analysts think the underlying rift (over Hamzah courting discontent among Bedouin tribes as he strives to remain important despite losing his title) is still festering.
Where Did Chad Rebels Prepare for Their Own War? In Libya.(NYT)
Fighting as mercenaries for years, the rebels were ready to pull off their own stunning feat: an invasion that resulted in the death of Chad’s strongman ruler.
The rebels pulled off a stunning feat. Barely a week after their armed convoy roared across the desert into northern Chad, they kicked off a battle that on Monday claimed the biggest scalp of all: Idriss Déby, Chad’s iron-fisted president of three decades, killed on the battlefield when a shell exploded near his vehicle, according to a senior aide.
On Wednesday, a day after his death was announced, a sense of apprehension and disbelief reverberated through the capital, Ndjamena, where the military formally installed as interim president Mr. Déby’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby. Rumors of an impending rebel attack on the city coursed through its streets.
But the secret of the rebels’ striking success thus far lay behind them, across Chad’s northern border in Libya, where they have been fighting as soldiers of fortune for years, amassing weapons, money and battlefield experience, according to United Nations investigators, regional experts and Chadian officials. In effect, the rebels used Libya’s chaotic war to prepare for their own campaign in Chad.
Until recently they were employed by Khalifa Hifter, a powerful Libyan commander once championed by President Donald J. Trump. They fought with weapons supplied by the United Arab Emirates, one of Mr. Hifter’s main foreign sponsors.
And they were based last year at a sprawling Libyan military air base alongside mercenaries from the Wagner Group, the Kremlin-backed private company that is considered a spearhead for Russia’s covert efforts to spread its military influence across Africa.
Experts say the unexpected coup by the Chadian rebels offers a stark example of how the decade-old power vacuum in Libya, starting with the ouster of the dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, has incubated an array of mercenaries and other armed groups, some of which are now spreading chaos in the region.
“The civil war in Libya has created an environment in which armed groups, not just from Chad but from all over the place, can thrive and find sponsors and allies,” said Nathaniel Powell, a research associate at the Center for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University in Britain, and the author of “France’s Wars in Chad.”
Uncertainty has seized Chad since the death of Mr. Déby, casting doubt on the stability of a nation viewed by the United States and France as a linchpin of their efforts to counter Islamist militancy spreading across western and central Africa.
In a statement on Wednesday the rebels, who go by the name Front for Change and Concord in Chad (F.A.C.T., by its French acronym), threatened to march on Ndjamena this weekend, following Mr. Déby’s funeral planned for Friday.
Whether the rebels can deliver on that threat is unclear. They suffered heavy losses early this week — Chad’s military claimed to have killed 300 rebels — and foreign military officials are unsure how far the rebel force is from the capital.
Even so, the Chadian military fortified the defenses around the presidential palace on Wednesday, where officials denied persistent rumors that Mr. Déby’s successor, his son Mahamat, had also been killed or injured.
“If he has been shot or dead, that means he’s a good actor, because he is alive and kicking,” said Acheikh Ibn-Oumar, a senior presidential adviser who said he was speaking from inside the palace.
There are still questions about the circumstances of the elder Mr. Déby’s death, and whether he was in fact killed by a rival. But Mr. Ibn-Oumar, echoing statements by military leaders, insisted the president was killed when a rebel shell exploded near his vehicle near Nokou, 170 miles north of Ndjamena.
Mr. Déby was killed on the day he won his sixth election, marred by irregularities. Western countries had largely overlooked his dismal record of corruption and rights abuses because he was a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamist militancy in the Sahel, an arid swath bordering the Sahara that spans six African countries.
France has had a continued military presence in Ndjamena since 1986, and its counterterrorism operation in the Sahel, known as Operation Barkhane, has been headquartered in Chad’s capital since its launch in 2014. France says at least 1,000 of its soldiers are currently based in Chad.
But the rebels looking to overthrow Mr. Déby represented an array of local grievances against the iron-fisted, 31-year rule of an old-fashioned African strongman accused by critics of squandering Chad’s considerable oil revenues, leaving it among the poorest countries on earth.
Since the 1990s an array of rebel groups, many defined by ethnic identity, have sought to overthrow him. Some were based in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where they received funding and weapons from the Sudanese dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
After Mr. al-Bashir and Mr. Deby struck a peace deal in 2010 and agreed to stop backing rebels fighting each other’s governments, the Chadian rebels were forced to leave Sudan. They found a new base, a year later, in Libya.
In the chaos that followed the ouster and death of Col. Qaddafi in 2011, rival Libyan factions hired African mercenaries to fight alongside their own forces. The Chadians, who have a reputation as dogged desert fighters, were in high demand.
Some Chadians even swapped sides, if the price was right.
The F.A.C.T. started out with out with a Libyan faction based in the central city of Misurata, said a United Nations official who has spoken with the group’s leadership, but was not authorized to speak to the media. But by 2019 they had switched their support to a rival faction, led by Mr. Hifter, which had launched a campaign to seize the capital, Tripoli.
The Chadians are by no means the best-known foreign mercenaries in Libya. Far greater attention has been paid to the Russian and Syrian fighters who played a key role in Mr. Hifter’s push for Tripoli.
But the money, weapons and experience gathered by African mercenaries, mostly from Chad and Sudan, is now being put to use in other countries.
A U.N. report published in February noted that F.A.C.T. fighters were based at a major military air base in Al Jufra, in central Libya — an airfield that is also a hub for Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group, and which has received cargo flights carrying weapons from the United Arab Emirates, the report notes.
The U.N. also noted that an airplane owned by Erik Prince, the former Blackwater owner who organized an ill-fated $80 million mercenary operation for Mr. Hifter, had been photographed at the Jufra air base.
Following the collapse last year of Mr. Hifter’s assault on Tripoli, the warring factions in Libya signed a cease-fire agreement in October that has mostly held.
As the fighting in Libya ended, the Chadian fighters returned home for the uprising they launched against Mr. Déby on April 11. They may have brought some of the advanced weaponry from Libya with them, said Cameron Hudson, a former State Department official now at the Atlantic Council, a research body in Washington.
He said that the Chadians appeared to be traveling in the same kind of armored vehicles that the Emiratis had donated to Mr. Hifter.
The U.N. official said that, even at the height of the Libyan war, the rebels had always intended to go home to Chad.
“That’s their real interest,” he said. “They talked about gathering as many weapons as they could and going back to Chad.”