Nasser Weddady is a Boston-based independent consultant working on terrorism, youth movements and countering radicalization.
The latest iteration of the Trump administration’s travel ban came with a twist that baffled many Africa watchers: the inclusion of Chad, a country that has played a critical role in fighting Islamist terrorist groups in Africa, such as al-Qaeda and Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
It is hard to overstate the degree to which Chad is no softy on terrorism. President Trump’s travel ban for the country sends a chilling message to other nations: Even if you stand by the United States and the West — and spill blood to combat terrorists in the process — you still might end up on the president’s list of U.S. undesirables.
Few remember how hard-pressed France and the United States were in 2013 to find African nations willing and able to contribute effective combat troops to dislodge al-Qaeda affiliates from northern Mali. Yet despite the United States’ well-justified skepticism of African military capabilities, Chadian troops ended up spearheading the offensive to liberate northern Mali from terrorist rule after France launched “Operation Serval” that January. Having earned a reputation for possessing some of the best desert-warfare troops in the world, Chad then sent troops to northern Nigeria, where they were often considered more capable than the Nigerian military.
And let’s not forget that Chad houses a U.S. drone base as well as Special Operations forces critical to American security interests stretching from Somalia to Mauritania. Its capital city of N’Djamena also serves as the nerve center for France’s “Operation Barkhane,” a combat mission to help nations of the Sahel region secure their territories while building their own counterterrorism capabilities. The N’Djamena base allows France to launch surveillance missions and airstrikes in critical areas such as southern Libya, northern Niger and northern Mali, removing the need to deploy U.S. troops in the region.
Trump’s decision becomes even more odd when you factor in his removal of Chad’s neighbor, Sudan, from the ban. The Sudanese regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir is known for committing genocide in Darfur, harboring Osama bin Laden and, until recently, cozying up to Iran. Sudan exports Islamist extremists to Libya and Iraq. It also allows extremists a breathing space despite pretending otherwise. Chad, by contrast, has produced far fewer extremists, and it has publicly denounced Salafi extremism and some Persian Gulf states for their troubling role in spreading extremism to the region in the past. Chad has also taken active measures to limit the impact of Salafi activism and literature in its territory.
Of course, Chad is not exactly a role model in democratic rule or peaceful transfer of power. Critics may argue that Chad’s hard-line stance on terrorism has been a ruse to buy Western silence on its democratic shortcomings. That may be true, but the fact remains that without Chadian assistance, Western nations such as the United States, France and Britain would have to send their own troops to combat terrorism.
Besides, the West has for decades sacrificed its principles for expediency, backing unsavory rulers preferring short-term security and geopolitical gains over long-term democratization. And in any case, the nature of the Chadian regime is a moot point in the Trump era. Democracy and human rights promotion have not been a priority for the Trump administration. Instead, its foreign policy has so far embraced autocrats and rejected America’s tradition of standing for its core democratic principles.
Whatever one thinks of the war on terror and the vast moral gray zones involved in combating terrorism, it is impossible today to continue effectively combating the scourge of Islamist extremism without enlisting competent allies. Chad, a Muslim-majority nation, never shied away from fighting Islamist terrorism, despite its poverty. At a time when many nations have been either unwilling or unable to slay the beast, Trump’s decision to shun one of the few countries that has risen to the challenge makes no sense.