Repeated defeats in Chad threaten Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's power in northern Africa. Politically, the military setbacks could prove disastrous for Col. Qaddafi. And the Libyan leader's frustration over the defeats may lead to renewed terrorism for France and the West.
That's what analysts in the French capital believe, following the capture of Libya's most precious air base, Wadi Doum, in northern Chad.
The capture, confirmed by a French Defense Ministry spokeswoman, exposes the manifest shortcomings of the over-equipped, undertrained, and inflexible Libyan Army that is backing Chadian rebels in the north, say sources in France.
The loss of Wadi Doum follows the January capture by Chadian forces of another vital northern town. Libya's remaining positions are now more vulnerable to attack, say French sources. And the likely next step is a march on Faya Largeau. Capture of Faya Largeau has been the intention of the Chadian government since it launched a new initiative to oust Libya last fall.
The airfield at Wadi Doum, Libya's largest in Chad, served as a base for Libyan air attacks on Chadian-held positions. Its capture will sharply reduce Libya's clear advantage in the skies, because Libya's other large airfields are far inside its own borders.
``The defeat exposes the complete failure of Libyan policy in Africa,'' says Philippe Defarges of the French Institute of International Relations. He adds, however, that ``Qaddafi could fall, but before that, he will do everything he can to strike back.''
This could mean renewed Libyan terrorism, suggest Mr. Defarges and other analysts. Already, French officials fear Libyan inspiration behind a recent bomb explosion at a caf'e frequented by French soldiers. It killed 11 people in the east African nation of Djibouti.
In Chad, France faces an increasingly delicate position. French soldiers provide logistical aid to Chad and recently gave Chad air-to-surface Milan missiles to help neutralize Libyan air superiority.
But at all costs the French want to keep their troops from being engaged. In the past, they have intervened militarily in Chad, only to find themselves being forced to return and suffer more casualties in an unending struggle.
So, while welcoming the Chadian Army's victory, French officials are advising caution.