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Opération Bison is the name given to the French military operation in Chad in the years 1969–1972.

Chad was a former French colony that had become independent in 1960. In 1965 erupted the Chadian Civil War, and a year later the FROLINAT, an insurgent group, was formed to overthrow the Chadian President François Tombalbaye. By 1968 the revolt had extended to most of the country, and the FROLINAT could count on roughly 3000 men.[1]

This forced Tombalbaye to ask in 1968 for help from the French President Charles de Gaulle, counting on the military accords between the two countries; firstly, the Defence Accord signed on August 15, 1960, and secondly, the Assistance Militaire Technique (AMT) accord, signed May 19, 1964. Originally France limited itself to provide logistic support to the Chadian Armed Forces but, when it became clear the situation was not improving, De Gaulle reluctantly started on April 14, 1969, Operation Bison, sending 3,000 well equipped French soldiers against the ragtag FROLINAT forces. Among the conditions for the French help was the acceptance by Tombalbaye of an Administrative Reform Mission (MRA), that was to reform the army and the civil service and propose radical changes to the government's policies.[2]

The command of the operation was at first given to General Michel Arnaud, a former companion of the General Philippe Leclerc. Tombalbaye immediately attempted to dictate him the mission of the Operation; for example it is reported that on one occasion, Tombalbaye summoned Arnauld to a meeting of the Defence Council and ordered him to eliminate all the Arabs living at N'Goura, a locality not far from the capital Fort-Lamy, because they didn't deserve to be called Chadians. Arnaud bluntly awnsered "I am a French general and will not engage in genocide". A moment of silence followed, after which Tombalbaye ordered the general to take the first flight to France.[3]

These tensions brought to Arnaud's replacement in September with General Edouard Cortadellas, who went on better with Tombalbaye. The French were militarily successful, constantly defeating the rebels. This, with the reforms of the MRA, contributed to the relative calm of 1970 and 1971, especially in central and eastern Chad, where the French concentrated themselves. By 1971 the rebels were for the most part active only in isolated pockets in the Tibesti, and Cortadellas himself admitted that the Toubou could not be fully submitted, when he said: "I believe we should draw a line below [the Tibesti Region] and leave them to their stones. We can never subdue them."[4]

The French used against the insurgents tactics that emphasized the use of air power for ground support, similarly to what the United States was doing in those years in Vietnam. This helped the French win every engagement with the rebels, and especially useful were their 20 mm helicopter-mounted cannons.[5]

In July 1971 the French ceased direct military involvement, and on August 28, 1972, the operation was officially considered ended, as symbolized by the departure the same day of Cortadellas, with most of the troops. Cortadellas' place in Chad was taken by the General J.-H. Auffray, with a single French Marine regiment stationed in the capital and 600 army advisors, that were deployed in Chadian uniforms. The operation cost the lives of 50 Frenchmen (among whom was Cortadellas' son), but failed in destroying the insurgency, that promptly took new vigor when the French departed.[1]

Auffray was to remain in command till October 1974, when he was replaced. In 1975 all remaining French were forced to leave Chad, because of a crisis in Franco-Chadian relations generated by the Claustre affaire. French troops were to return three years later with Opération Tacaud, again to save the government from the FROLINAT.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Milburn, Sarah S. (1998). "Toujours la Chasse Gardée?: French Power and Influence in Late 20th Century Francophone Central Africa (c. 1970–1995)". Columbia International Affairs.
  2. ^ "Opération Epervier".
  3. ^ Nolutshungu, Sam C. (1995). Limits of Anarchy: Intervention and State Formation in Chad. University of Virginia Press. p. 94. ISBN 0-8139-1628-3.
  4. ^ Fearon, James & Laitan, David (2006). "Chad - Random Narratives" (PDF). Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War.
  5. ^ R. Brian Ferguson (2002). The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War World. Routledge. p. 267. ISBN 0-415-27412-5.
  6. ^ De Lespinois, Jérôme (2005). "Emploi de la force aérienne - Tchad 1969–1987" (PDF). Penser les Ailes françaises (6): 70–72. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-05.