Chad’s army says it will continue joint operations against jihadists

Chad’s government said on Sunday that its army would continue to participate in regional taskforces targeting jihadist groups, as well as the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, following President Idriss Deby’s suggestion it might withdraw its troops.

Chad is a key contributor to a multinational force in the Lake Chad basin fighting Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram, and another farther north in the Sahel zone that counters militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

It is also the largest troop contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, with more than 1,400 soldiers there as of January.

In a speech broadcast on Friday that followed heavy fighting between the army and Boko Haram, Deby said: “From today, no Chadian soldier will take part in an external military operation.”

However, in a statement on Sunday, Chad’s foreign affairs ministry said Deby’s remarks had been misinterpreted and only meant the army would no longer conduct unilateral operations beyond its borders in the Lake Chad basin.

“It was never a question for Chad of disengaging from the (anti-Boko Haram) Multinational Joint Task Force or from the G5 Sahel joint force, much less from (MINUSMA),” the statement said.

Chad’s armed forces are among the most respected in the region, a reputation forged during decades of war and rebellions, and honed in a 2013 campaign against al Qaeda-linked Islamists in the deserts of northern Mali.

The members of the G5 Sahel and its main backer France are desperately trying to bolster the force, which has done little to reverse deteriorating security across the semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara Desert.

The Boko Haram insurgency, which erupted in northeast Nigeria in 2009, continues to grind on, with attacks frequently spilling over into Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

In late March, Boko Haram carried out its deadliest-ever attack on Chad’s army, killing nearly 100 soldiers in an ambush. The army said on Thursday that it had killed as many as 1,000 Boko Haram fighters in a subsequent military campaign.