The rebels came out of the eastern desert in a column of pickup trucks a hundred vehicles long and were not spotted until they had crossed most of Chad. The trucks were rumored to have come from a Chinese oil base, and the rebels carried Chinese weapons and were backed by a country—Sudan—that got most of its revenue by selling oil to the Chinese government. By the time American spy satellites picked them up, the rebels—calling themselves the Front Uni pour le Changement (FUC)—were 60 miles outside the Chadian capital of N’Djamena and closing fast. Mirage jets, part of a French stabilization force, fired warning shots at the advancing column, but nothing would slow it down.
Each truck carried 55-gallon drums of water and spare fuel in the back and could operate across a thousand miles of desert unaided. Pouches of rocket-propelled grenades hung from the sides, and belt-fed machine guns were bolted to the rooftops. Five men rode inside the cab, and another 5 or 10 men rode in the back along with the bedrolls, ammunition, fuel drums, and spare tires. Some trucks were plastered with mud to blend in with the desert, and others had their windshields punched out to allow for an additional machine gun on the dashboard. Outfitted like that, there was virtually nowhere in the Sahara they couldn’t go.
Around four A.M. on April 13, 2006, a Chadian Army commander spotted the rebel column on the outskirts of N’Djamena and radioed in to his headquarters, “We are face-to-face.” Moments lat...