OPS Chad - Testimony Tressac

Hugues de TAPPIE …

Hugues de TAPPIE, alias Hugues de TRESSAC … Sous la banière OPN, du débarquement aux Comores le 13 mai 78 à la reconquête du Tchad sur les Libyens, en 81-82, aux côtés d’Hissen Habré et d’Idriss Deby, Hugues aura également été navigateur solitaire quatre années autour du globe, comédien à Paris, dirigeant de société…


YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY DAUGHTER, A Soldier of Fortune’s New Struggle.
Hugues de TRESSAC
With the collaboration of Michel BIDEAU
Published by Plon




Chapter 5 – Chad

Chad doesn’t exist. It’s one of those abstractions conjured up by the French government at the turn of the century. Its intangible borders are a product of decolonization, the divine goal of the OAU (but how else should they do it?), imposing an unnatural melding of peoples who have hated each other since the dawn of time. 1960: independence. At the same time, northern Chad, populated with filthy anarchists, entered into open conflict against the south, educated, imperialism’s best pupil, keeper of the new government and the new power. After many vicissitudes, the GUNT (Transitional Government of National Unity) was created in 1979. This would incorporate eleven “tendencies,” that is, eleven armed militias. Goukouni Oueddeï becomes the Head of State and Hissène Habré his Minister of Defense. Quickly, the latter criticizes Goukouni for selling his country to the Libyans. In March 1980, this conflict resulted in the long Battle of N’Djamena between Hissène’s FAN (Armed Forces of the North) and the various armed factions of the GUNT. Goukouni only achieves the unification of the tendencies thanks to the vagueness emanating from his insignificant personality. To finish, he brings it, demonstrating that he is really the Libyans’ man: he asks them for help. They land with their T-54 and 55 tanks, Migs, heavy combat helicopters, chase Hissène and invade the country, and, under pressure from Kadhafi, Goukouni signs a fusion treaty (!) between Chad and Libya. There was already the occupation in the Aouzou Strip in the north… the whole mess was serious, too serious, and the OAU, categorically, obtained the Libyan withdrawal from the disputed border. It’s then that Bob Denard intervened.

Hissène had lost the war, everyone watching saying it was over, and he found refuge on the border of Sudan, in the east. His staff, the last group of loyalists, were insignificant, a few hundred scrawny Goranes. He was reduced to being the leader of an isolated group, exiled to the small border of Ouadi Bari. France, allied through military treaties with Chad, whatever its government was, half-heartedly backed up Goukouni. The United States would gladly give support to Hissène but refused to intervene at all: it was understood that Chad was under French protection. Hissène, through the intermediary of Khalil d’Abzac, his eminence the fair, called upon the “Denard reserve” in order to obtain management for his partisan forces. Habré didn’t have money, couldn’t pay, but the Vieux decided to invest from the budget of the Comorian PG. He wagered on the Chadian’s recognition should they win.

It was September 1981, Mitterand was elected four months prior, and Denard had no more special contact with the SDECE, henceforth known as the DGSE. Le Vieux first dispatched Jean-Baptiste and Laurent d’Arp to Chad. Things started well between Hissène and these two men, who were evaluating the needs of his meager troop. After, Laurent returned to give his report to the Vieux. Hissène was of presidential caliber, his charisma, on the leitmotif of an independent Chad’s integrity, was impressive, his partisans were determined and courageous, but poorly armed. They urgently needed heavy arms and communications specialists… That’s where I came in.

When the Vieux told me this history, in Moroni, I sensed the call of the big game. How many men had this chance? To write history on the field of battle in the desert, like Lawrence, Largeau, Leclerc, Montgomery “of Alamein,” and Stirling, who founded the SAS… Things had come full circle.

The three men who were going to each give their real force were: “Jean-Baptiste, who is already in place. There was something or other to do with mortars, and he knows those like the back of his hand. Rio …” I knew him. A heavy artillery specialist. 30 years old. Almost two meters tall. Grew up in Sologne. He had been involved in the PG since his time in Brazil, where he earned his nickname.

“… then there’s you. Laurent only traveled to evaluate the situation, and won’t be accompanying you. I need him badly in Moroni. I don’t know Chad well, but it seems like they read too many stories over there. General Tapioca overthrows his mortal enemy yet again, but he’ll be back next time, and everyone wants to try to take his place.”

“Like everywhere, isn’t it?”

“Fine. But they take it further there. Listen, Hugues, you have carte blanche, no big orders. The future needs to be written from A to Z, and I’m not going to be there to supervise.”

“Good. How long will we be there?”

“I don’t know at all, my boy, no idea. You’re going to taking the plunge without a parachute. All I ask is that you manage to keep in touch with Moroni. As for Chad, you’ll see once you get there. The mission is simple: make yourself indispensible to Hissène and help him get back in the saddle. I’m on my own in this thing, and it’s a big one, you understand that Chad is two and a half times the size of France, not some pile of waste like the Comoros.”

“As far as the technical goes, a radio link with Moroni shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.”

“Another thing: through Laurent, Hissène has asked me for a C130 stocked with supplies. I asked all my African contacts, but nobody seems to want to help. Tell him not to expect that airplane any time soon.”

At the time, I knew next to nothing about what was going on in Chad. I hugged my family and told them that I’d be disappearing for a while, underground, with no mail. Impossible to even tell them where I was going.

In order to get one of those rare visas for Sudan, we were forced to falsify our papers with the heading of the ACF (Action Against Hunger), behind the charity organization’s back, of course.

Landed in Khartoum just after Christmas in a yellow dust field at the junction of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. A few grand avenues in the “British Empire” style where Field Marshal Nemeyri had paraded in his social duties as Marshal. Seven years beforehand, traveling in the company of Bernard Tissot, we were stuck in Luxor, out of money, and had dreamed of the mythic Khartoum, entrance to the deep African interior.

This time, we had made it. Layover in Meridian, in an anonymous hotel where we were supposed to receive a telephone call from our contact. We were surprised to get a call from the Chadian ambassador himself, a secret partisan of Hissène’s. He gave us orders for some bogus mission and accompanied us just to the border of Chad in a series of airplanes, each smaller and older than the last. Sudan itself was in the middle of a civil war, and the illiterate military’s control posts were plentiful.

The dilapidated plane headed out again, a quick right, a quick left, setting down in an ochre cloud, not far from Al-Juneynah, a village sympathetic to Hissène in southern Sudan. The first night with the FAN and their families. These nomads, armed to the teeth, welcomed us with anachronistic warmth. At dawn, we made for the border in a 404 plateau, bursting with FAN combatants. Lunar landscape, blue metallic sky, dry and light. We rolled along on hard planet Earth. No trail, even less of a direction, the driver navigated by the sun, the stars after night had fallen…. Suddenly, a fissure opened up under the tires. More fear than trouble, but the truck was out.

Abéché, the first Chadian agglomeration, terra cotta, low houses, flat roves, not a grain of cement. It had just been retaken by the FAN. Our compatriot Jean-Baptiste left to mark a landing strip for the hypothetical C130, which would never come.

Introductions next to the president of the FAN command council, very skinny, rather tall, small cropped beard, in a white boubou and fez: Hissène Habré and his air of eternal youth in spite of his age, between forty and forty-five years old. He didn’t know his exact date of birth, but, without a doubt, the war and the millet at each meal preserved him. He lived by himself in the nearby deserts of the prefecture of Abéché. His partisans camped at the four corners of the village and in the farmyard, in the middle of a heap of fuel barrels, guns, ammunition… Hissène wanted to personally control everything forever, which was common knowledge.

From our arrival, he tested us. He couldn’t believe that we weren’t French agents and didn’t hide his perplexity.

“Messieurs, welcome. Brave of you to come here, but what is your background ? What can you bring to us?”

“Lieutenant Hugues, captain Rio, Mr. President, we are ex-officers from the French army. Communication and artillery specialists.”

“We are only half-lying. I’m Denard’s lieutenant, in the PG. Rio and Jean-Ba are both reserve officers.”

“Good, but French services, just the same…”

“We come from Moroni, sent by Colonel Denard.”

“I see. But, this Colonel Denard, who does he work for?”

“For himself. He has his own budget thanks to the Presidential Guard of the Comoros, his ground work.”

“This seems too good to be true…”

He was cold and gentle. His French was impeccable, accent light and melodious, becoming passionate at turns.

“Mr. President, in current circumstances the colonel regrets that he cannot send you supplies, and you can no longer count on the C130 for the time being. None of the African governments with which he is in contact will do it. We are alone with you. Nevertheless, he asked me to establish radio contact with Moroni, hoping to break your isolation.” He studied me with the eyes of a cat. The plane’s absence was a disappointment, and the radio was troubling.

Were Denard and I, his envoy, there only to spy on him, to double-cross him? But if he refused, he risked losing us. He had seen Jean-Baptiste in action, the services he was performing on the ground. Denard’s game seemed clear, he only hopes Hissène’s recognition returns to the affairs thanks to our help after this one.

“Okay. Let’s find you a name. Dress like the FAN. Pass unnoticed. Your friend Jean-Baptiste, who is now called Ahmed Lucky, comes back in two days. I’ll go find him.”


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