N'Djamena - In pledging 2 000 desert-trained soldiers to fight Islamic extremists in Mali, Chad's president Idriss Deby looks set to carve out a role as a force for regional stability, analysts say.
Deby's commitment to send the largest African contingent of soldiers to Mali comes just weeks after he ordered troops into the Central African Republic, to act as a buffer force halting the progress of a rebel alliance towards the capital Bangui.
Highly trained, well-equipped and experienced in desert warfare, the Chadian troops will not officially become part of the International Support Mission for Mali (MISMA), which will consist of more than 4 000 soldiers pledged by West African nations, a source in the Chadian general staff said.
However, the troops under Chadian command will "serve on the ground" in close cooperation with the MISMA, commanded by a Nigerian general, and with French troops who have intervened in Mali to fight forces linked to al-Qaeda and to prevent the establishment of a terrorist safe haven in the occupied north, the source said.
Chad's troops "are seasoned soldiers in the desert, contrary to the armies of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas)", said Philippe Hugon, research director for Africa at France's Institute of International and Strategic Relations.
"They support extreme heat well, they know that the enemy is very mobile, because this is a war of pick-up trucks, in which the jihadists move around all the time," Hugon added.
For Roland Marchal, a research director at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, "the Chadians have also understood that the more troops you deploy in international operations, the harder you are to attack on issues of domestic politics. Even if criteria for good governance are not really fulfilled, France and the United States will show greater restraint in criticising the Deby regime".
Though France has a military base in Chad's capital N'Djamena - from where fighter aircraft take off for Mali - "it's not France that pressed Deby to send men, it was rather the United States," Marchal added.
Washington "wants the problem in Mali to be settled, and after training more than 1 000 men among Chad's elite troops in the past few years, this is a way of making good on that investment", he said.
However, in Chadian political circles, the aim of going to Mali is above all to prevent the spread of a jihadist threat, since several countries in the region are prone to violence by armed Islamic extremists, notably including the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria, where brutal attacks and the response by the security forces have claimed about 3 000 lives since 2009.
"This [Islamist] danger threatens us as well. And that's why we offer willing support to the sending of Chadian troops to Mali. To go to Mali today is to defend oneself by eliminating the evil at a distance," Chad's main opposition figure and lawmaker Saleh Kebzabo said.
"We should consider the situation in Mali as being our own, because none of the countries in the Sahel can today claim to escape [the threat] and act on their own to wipe it out. To go to Mali is the fight of the Chadian people," he added.
Former prime minister Kassire Koumakwe took a similar approach. "If tomorrow these criminals take [Mali's capital] Bamako, they will spread their negative ideology throughout the Sahel. And the Sahel will be ungovernable," he said.
Chad's role in Mali "is a way of anticipating the fight against the jihadists on its own territory", Hugon concluded.