EUFOR Chad/CAR: A Logistical Litmus Test

France has announced its willingness to contribute an additional 500 troops and about ten helicopters to the EUFOR Chad/CAR mission. Regardless, logistical issues loom large on the horizon and will provide a critical test for European Security and Defence Policy.

After France announced its willingness at the end of last week to contribute an additional 500 troops and about ten helicopters, EUFOR’s operational commander Lieutenant-General Patrick Nash, is said to have recommended the launch of EUFOR Chad/CAR.

The French willingness to provide the additional assets came at a point where doubts about the mission had grown increasingly strong. Originally intended to be launched in November 2007, the force-generating process for the mission was plagued by the reluctance of European member states to commit troops and equipment deemed necessary by Lt. Gen. Nash for the success of the operation.

Last week’s developments gave hope that the 3,500 strong force would finally be able to start deploying in early February. While this has been greeted with relief in most European capitals, critical logistical challenges remain ahead. 

The first of these challenges will be the projection of EUFOR into the area of operations – eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) – one of the points in Africa’s furthest from the sea. The logistical challenge is heightened by the particularly underdeveloped transportation infrastructure in the area of operations, where most roads are unpaved and thus impassable during the rainy season, lasting from May to October.

Two deployment routes are available to EUFOR Chad/CAR: an air-route and/or sea-land route. The sea-land route – known as the Douala Corridor (Douala-Ngaoundéré-N’djamena-Abéché) – poses considerable difficulties due to extensive overland transport. From the Cameroonian port of Douala to Abéché a distance of 2,400 km (of which 900 km are railroads) needs to be bridged. Aside from poor road conditions, the Douala corridor is, in relative terms, one of the world’s most expensive transportation routes.

The air-route faces its own set of obstacles. The only suitable airport for strategic airlift in the area of operations is Abéché airport. However, due to capacity and security concerns, N’djamena airport, which also hosts the French airbase Hadji Kossei, is more likely to be used for the strategic airlift from Europe. From N’djamena, tactical lift to Abéché would be required. Limitations in capacity of both airports will also slow down the EU capability to project the force.

Given the European shortfalls in strategic mobility, the participating countries will have to rely heavily on leasing commercial carriers, as they have in past operations. While effective, leasing commercial lifters is very costly, and could also interfere with competing demands for other operations – most notably NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. The deployment of the 400 Irish troops alone, reportedly requires 30 sorties of the Russian Antonov AN-124-100 at an estimated cost of EUR15 million.

Logistical challenges would, however, not end once the force is on the ground. Two additional concerns will remain: sustainment and intra-theatre lift. Sustainment, which covers all of the supplies required to conduct combat operations, including fuel and water – the two heaviest and most difficult sustainment items to transport, will be especially challenging due to the host nations’ lack of support capacity. While sustainment efforts will likely be at least partially carried out by private contractors, substantial strategic and tactical lift capabilities will still be required by EUFOR.

Intra-theatre lift is the other major area of concern for EUFOR Chad/CAR – not unlike the situation NATO faces in Afghanistan. As in Afghanistan, the very large area of operations, challenging climate and terrain, and the lack of infrastructure will place high demands on the few available helicopters, which will require a substantial and expensive logistical tail to keep them flying. These difficulties and high costs associated with them largely explain the reluctance of many European countries to part with their most prized assets – particularly helicopters – for the operation.

In sum, deploying and sustaining EUFOR Chad/CAR will be a very challenging and expensive logistical undertaking. The mission will thus be a logistical litmus test for an ever more ambitious European Security and Defence Policy – whose operational development is closely linked to Africa.

Bjoern H. Seibert

Bjoern is a MALD candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a member of the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) at The Fletcher School. For further analysis on the issues above, please see Bjoern Seibert’s MIT Security Studies Program Working Paper published in November 2007.

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