Libya and the forgotten 1987 “Toyota War”

These days I have been thinking about some of my annotations in Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson’s book “The (mis)behavior of markets”. They are related to big changes happening abruptly. This happens in markets, as we saw recently in the Financial Crises impressively, and also in natural phenomena. As well it happened with the fall of the Berlin wall and in recent days the Magreb uprises were surprisingly coming to a climax in Libya. This is not comparable with Tunisia and Egypt. Libya is in a way the “North Korea of North Africa”, not that closed but having a very effective police and secret services to suppress any challenge to the Gaddafi regime. This uprise I find is a real surprise and it seems like this for the whole of Europe.

Since the last phase of the war in the Tibesti I believed the Gaddafi regime with stay alive as long as the Colonel is alive. Of course this war is not related to the current events , but it showed how the regime solves internal problems by creating an external enemy. Even it is just around 25 years ago it might have even been forgotten entirely, if not the veterans were still young and have memories and the Airport of N’Djiamena was named after Commander Hassan Djiamous. It is also known as the “Toyota war”.

The conflict between Libya and Chad goes back to 1978, which’s last escalation was triggered by crossing the 16th Longitude on Gaddafi’s command in early 1986. On February 13th the French Operation Epervier regrouped Mirage F1 and Jaguar fighter planes and hit the airfield Ouadi Doum, which was built in Northern Chad in 1985. Subsequently Libya bombed N’Djamena Airport. Libya further invaded the Tibesti with the ultimate target to take N’Djamena. To secure supply for further invasion Libya retook Bardai, Zouar and Wour building moving in T-62 tanks supported by air force and the use of napalm and chemical weapons. In January 1987 Fada was taken. Under the command of Hassan Djiamous the Chadian counteroffensive gained speed, by crushing Libyan troops with cyclical sudden attacks in the battles of B’ir Kora, Quadi Doum and Bardai. Under heavy losses Gaddafi’s troops had to withdraw from Northern Chad.

The turning point came also with the application of the MILAN guided missile by Chad. They were frequently mounted on Toyota Pick ups, which gave the offensive the name. The MILAN is a French-German wire guided missile which is easy to operate and follow moving targets by simply keeping them in the sight. The missile can be fired from the shoulder and has a range of up to 2 kilometers, and can be equipped with night vision and has a range of different warheads. In the Soviet-Afghan war, the MILAN is also said to be the decisive weapon used against helicopters. This story which is related to the American Congressman Charlie Wilson, made it even into a movie.

I see no recent model for what is happening in the Arab countries. It is not about independence, which eases the thought it could turn into a second Yugoslavia. Here it is first about a better life and perspective for a very young population, which these regimes seem not to be able to deliver in the eyes of those on the streets. Also it is about democracy. But democracy is a different thing in different countries. There is a lot of power vacuum to fill. Who fills it and in which manner will be a topic to watch in 2011.