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The UAE airlift to Amdjarass, Chad
In a recent blog post, I revealed a total of 28 recent cargo flights between the United Arab Emirates and an unknown location in Africa. This follow-up blog post reveals the destination of the airlift: the city of Amdjarass in Northeastern Chad.
This airlift has continued since the original blog post below, which is updated regularly to include later flights.
Following the original publication of the blog post, new evidence has been presented to me. Because of the security of my source, I cannot go into details about what this evidence includes exactly. Whatever it is, it pointed at a specific airport in Northeastern Chad: Amdjarass.
According to Wikipedia, Amdjarass is the capital city of the Ennedi-Est region in the Northeast. In 2009, its population was almost 21,000. Despite its small population, Amdjarass features an airport with an impressive 3,000 m paved runway, which was opened as recently as 28 Dec 2022.
Near-daily Planet satellite imagery presented below show at least six Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft have visited the airport between 20 and 30 Jun 2023, confirming the claims presented above. This identification is confirmed by measurements of length, width and especially the distinctive general proportions of the Il-76.
Notably, the presence of an aircraft on satellite imagery depends on the overpass time of the satellite. An aircraft can only be seen if it is on ground at the moment the satellite image is made. Because of this, the real amount of visiting aircraft is always greater than or equal to the amount of aircraft seen on satellite imagery.
In the weeks before 21 Jun 2023 (01 May 2023 - 20 Jun 2023), no Il-76s can be seen on satellite images of Amdjarass. These have therefore not been included in the above graphic.
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The paragraphs below were published on 03 Jul 2023, before any official announcements were made about the reasons for the flights. On 04 Jul 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the UAE has made an announcement about their activities in Amdjarass. The total amount of flights has almost doubled to around 50 in the week since. My original text has been left in place, but new text has been added below to include these official announcements.
Potential reasons for the flights
According to a 28 May 2023 WAM news report, the Emirates Red Crescent has been operating an airlift to Abéché Airport in Chad. The aim of this airlift is to “reduce the humanitarian repercussions on the Sudanese people affected by the events in their country.” The indicated destination is Abéché, which is located some 330 km southwest of Amdjarass.
Unlike Amdjarass, Abéché is located along major roads, allowing for easy transportation of cargo over road. According to a June 2023 UNHCR fact sheet, Abéché is located in an area with around 74,000 Sudanese refugees. Confirming just how remote Amdjarass is, Google Maps is unable to calculate a car route between Amdjarass and Abéché.
With a runway length of 2,800 meters, Abéché is able to receive almost any aircraft. It is therefore indeed a much more logical destination for humanitarian aid than Amdjarass. Aid is therefore not a logical explanation for the Amdjarass flights.
On 14 Jun 2023, one week before the frequent Il-76 sightings at Amdjarass, Chadian Four-Star General and Transitional President Mahamat Déby visited Abu Dhabi, the origin of the recent airlift to Chad. According to a Chad government publication, five agreements were signed, including the topics energy, geology and the field of “military, security and counter-terrorism”.
In the month before his visit, I identified a total of 10 flights. In the 2-3 weeks after the visit, I identified a total of over 20. No flights were identified between 11 and 20 Jun. The first appearance of aircraft on satellite imagery of Amdjarass matches up with the days after the Presidential visit to the UAE.
Looking at the flight patterns and sightings on satellite imagery, is therefore not unthinkable that the first part of the reported airlift includes humanitarian aid for displaced Sudanese people, while the second (and current) part of the airlift has a different destination and cargo type, related to the Presidential visit.
In my earlier blog post, I established that the origin of at least some of the recent flights was the military apron at Abu Dhabi International Airport, confirming a link to the UAE Government.
The destination of many of the recent flights from the military apron at Abu Dhabi International Airport is Amdjarass, a remote city in Northeastern Chad. The destination of earlier flights from the UAE via Entebbe remains unconfirmed.
The humanitarian situation in neighbouring Sudan explains some recent UAE flights towards Chad, but is not a likely explanation for the recent flights to Amdjarass, judging by UNHCR reports and the local geography.
One potential explanation for the flights to Amdjarass is the recent Chadian Presidential visit to Abu Dhabi last month, which included new agreements in the fields of energy, geology and “military, security and counter-terrorism”.
UAE Government Announcement (04 Jul 2023)
The first flights of the current airlift were tracked on 16 May 2023. On 03 Jul 2023, I revealed the destination of the flights: Amdjarass in Chad. According to an announcement by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the day after, the UAE are constructing a field hospital in Amdjarass.
This was later confirmed by Chadian news agency Alwidha Info on 08 Jul 2023, who even included some pictures taken within the new field hospital, adding that it reportedly has 50 beds.
As of 09 Jul 2023, I have been unable to verify the existence of this field hospital because of limited availability of recent satellite imagery and recent cloud cover.
On the same day, one of the participants in the airlift, Fly Sky Airlines, published pictures of the aircraft on ground in Amdjarass, Chad, my geolocation confirms.
On 09 Jul 2023, a video allegedly showing “new UAE supplied LT79 Terrier” vehicles in service with the Chadian Army, appeared on social media. At this point in time I am uncertain whether this is actually a new video.
At this point in time, I am uncertain whether this is the true or complete story and I will continue my investigations. A few reasons for my doubts are listed below.
Why did the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs only announce their efforts weeks after they started? Is their announcement on the day after this publication a coincidence or is it perhaps an effort to hide an inconvenient truth about the nature of the flights?
How do reports of new arrivals of UAE-supplied armored vehicles align with the UAE’s claim of a humanitarian airlift and the previously announced agreement between Chad and the United Arab Emirates, involving “military, security and counter-terrorism”?
Why does a 50-flight airlift only result in a 50-bed field hospital?
Why does a field hospital get constructed in a remote area with very minor refugee influx?
Amdjarass on satellite imagery
On 18 Jul 2023, I purchased a Planet Skysat scene that shows the ongoing developments in greater detail. The satellite image was made on 17 Jul 2023.
The developments consist of two parts.
The area northeast of the airport is around 100x200 meters in size. It consists of some 16 grey tents, all of around 9.5x5 meters in size, connected end to end. This may be what has been described as a field hospital.
19 brown tents have been erected west of this field hospital, also around 9.5x5 meters in size, as well as a larger 25x15 meter building.
A larger area is currently under development southeast of the airport. It is around 350x600 meters in size.