A long period of intimacy with Hissène, we took all of our meals together, he took me into affection, confided his doubts in me. Alternately sweet and authoritative with the evil eye, he would hesitate about the direction to give to his conquest.
“How to do it? With the OUA interfering with the route to N’Djamena!” he brooded at the table. “The problem isn’t that the military is loyal to the politicians, even external ones like the OUA, but rather that the politicians spoil the situation.”
Nothing had changed: the OUA claimed to recognize Hissène as the official spokespersion, but without forcing Goukouni to negotiate. They forbade us all forward action, diplomatic or warmongering. This blocking situation could have lasted forever and the rainy season is going to arrive.
He returned the problem in his head. It was out of the question to confront the OUA, precisely interposition forces, he chooses to legitimize his power afterward. He thought that he didn’t possess the logistical means to circumvent that obstacle and rejoin the trail in the north, from which he could pounce on N’Djamena.
That’s when an unexpected catastrophe struck. We heard it over the airwaves: on their own, a FAN column had chosen to sack a well held by some goukounist Goranes, habitual nomads in the area, northwest of Oum Hadjer: Goss. The affair seemed like it had been decided in advance, the FAN found themselves engaged without preparation and defenseless. Fatal was their surprise to discover this brackish well so ardently defended. The survivors fled in disarray into the desert. Goukouni, counting on Hissène’s reticence to confront the OUA on the direct route to Ati, wouldn’t he have thought of Goss’s passage and reinforced this gap? Whatever happened, it was serious, the FAN, after a succession of uninterrupted victories, could be shattered psychologically by this first defeat. Immediately, Hissène understood the necessity to win back his luck. He gave the order to Deby to recapture Goss. I fled to Oum Hadjer to establish secret draconian radio surveillance. The essential of our forces would be mobilized in the battle, if the enemy heard of it, empty Oum Hadjer would be very vulnerable.
The three musketeers found each other again.
Exept that there were four…
“Riot the monumental, alias Said, he’s the spitting image of Porthos!” Jean-Baptiste said ironically, “And you Hugues Mustapha with your mustache you’d make a proud, presentable d’Artagnan. As for me, I see myself well as Ahmed Lucky… Aramis the nimble, no?”
They joked, a bit forced, they were going to leave to take Goss with the big FAN troops in a few minutes.
The boiling Ahmed the lucky just the same confessed a strange premonition as he was leaving, extravagantly doffing his hat to me.
“I’m not feeling it, this thing here.”
After their departure, at night, for a dawn attack, I returned to the PC radio in Abéché.
The next day, while I was trying to check up a 14,5 bitube, Hissène called to the radio PC.
« Mustafa, bad news… Ahmed Lucky was killed yesterday in front of Goss. Furthermore, nothing is over, the fighting is still going on. »
I went outside to breathe, without a word.
Hissène had liked Jean-Baptiste very much.
Goss was terribly flat. Not a single home. A well. At a distance, at the mortar, Riot had pounded the entrenched goukounist Goranes, buried in individual holes around their well. Usually, the Goranes fought standing up, refusing to hide themselves whatever the risk. And Jean-Baptiste had charged at the head of the roaring Toyotas, standing in his truck. Maybe he cried out his “death to cunts!” to galvanize his troops when the first bullet had struck him in the heart. Partisans of Hissène or Goukouni, the Goranes are all excellent shooters. Following the death of Ahmed Lucky, the assault failed. Riot should have renewed his bombardment with the mortars, all day, before Goss finally fell. The FAN left after suffering major losses. No prisoners.
At noon, I couldn’t hide my resentment towards Habré.
“Since the beginning, you never put much confidence in us. You didn’t trust my radios. I understand that you can’t remunerate us. But I dare to hope that after having paid with our blood, it’s clear: we are not here to double-cross you, we don’t cheat for anybody.”
After the bitter victory, Rio returned to Abéché for an hour. Immediately after Jean-Baptiste’s, he burned the body in the desert. He told me that among the Goranes he splashed gasoline for an impromptu funeral ceremony, primitive and touching. Our work had to be done with discretion; in no case should the enemy be able to prove that mercenaries were in combat. That’s the rule of the game. A free act, the supreme liberty of anonymity in world of publicity in which recognition outweighs accomplishment. Riot handed me an iron box, a grenade holster containing a bit of charred bone, a few bits of charcoal around it, all that was left of Jean-Baptiste who would sing in the night: What matters glory to me the pirate / the laws of the world and what death matters ? / On the ocean I made my victory / and drink my wine in a cup of gold…
Riot had brought back the poor fortune of our friend: a green bath towel that I still possess, two rolls of film to develop, a Trekking belt containing his papers. Born in Aix. The city where he had studied law while dreaming of the grand adventure in Africa. The hussar wasn’t even thirty. Politics didn’t interest him, money even less. He loved women, could live without them in the field, more than one would cry for him. I sent a final message to the Comores: “Jean-Baptiste has died on the field of honor in Goss.”
Goss’s fall opened access to the route going to the north, allowing us to go around Ati and the OUA. N’Djamena seemed to be in our sights. The enemy didn’t kid themselves, a wind of panic and division blowing on their army that we would take advantage of. The horn had sounded. Hissène opted for the mobile PC. His radio chief at his side, he set forth on the route of power, collecting in the tiny villages volunteers who followed his astonishing charisma. The young people gave him their allegiance and enlisted enthusiastically. Prudent conqueror, he set off again with small garrisons to take back the country. We met up with the assault wave that would conquer Salal, Moussoro, Massakory, Douguia, Massaguet and N’Djamena, one thousand kilometers of quotidian epic. The mortars led the way, flushing out the garrisons, and the FAN charge, the intoxicating rush of the 4×4 sieves. The exemplary strategy of this campaign would be studied at the French École de Guerre, a step on the way to earning a general’s star.
The first dawn after Oum Hadjer, in a village taken the day before whose name didn’t stay with me, we slept under the stars, curled up, rifle on the cheche, when a desperate GUNT counter-attack would wake us up, with heavy weaponry and I miss the grand voyage. The same day, we traversed Goss the damned. A no man’s land beaten by the wind, ploughed by shrapnel, two round huts in gnarled, thorny wood, covered with rags, around a dry well. For this extreme place, waves of Goranes attackers and defenders died, all cousins, with my friend Lucky. Hissène and I paid our respects to them silently.
“Perhaps Goss hadn’t been reinforced by Goukouni,” Mr. President reflected out loud, “The Goranes here would have preferred to die in place just because it was their sand.”
We found such a resistance in this pathetic hole, it’s inexplicable.
Without much difficulty, we traversed villages devoid of strategic interest. They had only been occupied by Mu’ammar al-Kadhafi’s politico-religious police, who painted everything in Islamic green, before abandoning thousands of little green pamphlets and incredible propaganda videos in the face of our advancing forces. In company with a laughing Hissène, we viewed the rants of a megalomanic gourou, the flashy buffoon green and golden, the jutting chin of Mussolini, gesticulating his hilarious fantasy better than any dictator in history.
In Salal, we met up with Said. We took the northern trail. Henceforth, it would be tantalizing for the Libyans to fly to the aid of Goukouni. Fly is the word because there would certainly first be a strike by their aviation. The damage that can be done by a sole Mig optimized for a ground strike on a desert colony is unimaginable to honest people. We could have found ourselves lain waste to before having seen where the menace came from. The two “western specialists” distributed SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles, of which we had plenty thanks to those same Libyans. It was the first time that we had had that type of equipment, hopefully fairly simple. The infrared homing guidance was attracted to the heat of the plane’s tailpipe. Fired vertically just after the plane’s passage, not before. Never fire in the direction of the sun, because the missile will be lost trying to find the star, more attractive than the plane. Fireworks of a dozen SAMs to get the hang of it and to initiate the Goranes who applauded like children.
The convoy arrived at a well where a caravan of dromedaries refreshed themselves. The day before, I had seen a mirage, a blanket of water suspended in the sky. Under our tires, the desert became sandier, more difficult. More and more, we handled shovels and metallic plates. To get stuck in the sand under enemy fire elicits the exact feeling of a nightmare.
In Massakory worked a team from “Médecins sans fontières” and, more importantly, was stationed an OUA garrison… However Hissène gave us the green fire, with only one order : not to hassle them. Where was he getting his newfound assurance of their neutrality? The rumor ran that he had sent a corrupting emissary, porter of an attaché case bursting with irresistible dollars to get the attention of their captain…
Assault. Combat. In fact, the OUA didn’t intervene, observing from a hill. Massakory fell.
No triumph for us, Hissène dreaded that the OUA or the doctors without borders would see the two shameful mercenaries. Riot and I found ourselves relegated to a patio four eight days, to fulminate with impatience. Convivial, the FAN would line up at our place with their weaponry to be repaired. When we left the city, with stupefaction we discovered in the group of miserable vehicles a new Toyota! Spotless. There was an inscription on the doors: “Médecins sans frontières”. Mortified with shame, we understood. Sure of the justice of his cause, Hissène didn’t hesitate to requisition the vehicle belonging to the docs, who would find themselves on foot in Massakory…
Since the fall of Goss, it must be noted that there was an indisputable evolution in Hissène’s attitude towards us. His “desert crossing” came to an end. Before our blinded eyes, he became head of state. We had been indispensable – some would even write that such a conquest wouldn’t have been possible without the intervention of Denard’s men – we became visible. The privileged intimacy from which I benefitted during those months was no longer of any consequence. Day by day, metamorphosed by his glory, the emperor confided less in his messenger, growing distant, secretive. He was perhaps indebted to us for his new power to the point where we had to fear for our lives… That perhaps he would discreetly liquidate two annoying clues, artisans of his triumph that he would have liked to owe only to his Chadians. Was this persecution madness on our part? We will never know. Just one day, isolated in convoy with my radio that had exasperated him, the shadow of doubt had chilled my blood. The future would prove that Hissène manifests the unpredictable ingratitude of the great politicians of the world. Many others would disappear, quite a few of them more official than we: Idriss Miskine, very quickly after the fall of N’Djamena, foreign affairs minister, bright giant to whom he owed much, the only one who could represent a counterweight to his omnipotence; Hassan Djamous, victorious war chief who believed he had well earned the fatherland; two brothers of Idriss Deby, lively following the latter in a dissidence that would finish by proving fatal to president Habré… but that’s another story.