It also revealed a Libyan tank battalion resting in Laager. The Libyans had set out the day before from the fortified camp at Wadi Doum with the mission of retaking the town of Fada. The Libyans hadn't deployed any scouts overnight, and little did they know the Chadian forces had found them and surrounded them.
|Libyan Camp, photographed by French air force in 1986|
Libyan forces had copied the Warsaw Pact doctrine, and purchased all the Soviets latest equipment with oil money.
Set against that you had the fierce, wiry desert tribesmen who were almost untrained. As an example the Chadian armies Special Forces received only six weeks of training.
|French Air force photograph of an SA-6 at Wadi Doum|
On a signal from their commander the Milan gunners launched a volley at the Libyan tanks. Some missiles hit and some missed. When they did hit the missiles easily punched through the tanks armour, often causing the turret to blow off. The Libyans began to return fire although their rounds had little effect, as they were trying to hit a man sized target at 400m. Their shells peppered and blasted the rocks the Chadians were using as cover.
The Libyan commander ordered most of his forces to shift over to face the direction of the incoming fire.
As they did so the Chadians launched their real attack. More Toyotas charged towards the weakened Libyan rear flank. The few tanks left to defend it desperately tried to track their guns round onto the Toyota pickups which were moving at over 70mph across the fine sand. Some of the T55's managed to get their guns on target, and even a near miss would smash the speeding pickup. Unfortunately the Libyan numbers were too few to prevent the attack from breaking through the line.
The Libyans tried to shift some of their tanks back to face the threat, but they quickly bogged down in the fine talcum powder like sand. Rampaging around inside the Laager the Chadians began to engage the Libyans with small arms, LAW’s (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) and RPG’s (Rocket Propelled Grenade). Some were launched at such close range that the rockets would strike the tanks and the explosion would kill the firer.
The tactics the Chadians had used were identical to ones the desert tribes had been using for centuries only replacing horses and camels with Toyotas. Yosko Hassan, Assistant Commander for the force said to reporters later:
"We Chadians, we had nearly nothing. Our army is a young one, with very little means. We tried to act within our means."
They defenders thought they were safe inside two rings of defensive lines and minefields. The approaching dust clouds were thought by some to be their missing troops returning. On the 22nd the Chadians attacked, quickly overwhelming the outer defensive line.
|Wadi Doum under French Air attack in 1986|
The Libyans panicked, and despite having overwhelming numbers and fire-power they fled with no attempt at a coordinated fight. The Chadians rampaged through the camp, occasionally pockets of resistance would be found and quickly destroyed by the Toyota borne Chadian army. Within an hour the runway had been captured, and by the early evening the rest of the base was also captured.
The Libyans had about 1300 soldiers killed, and 500 captured. The Libyan regional commander, Colonel Khalifa Hastar was also captured, and his deputy Colonel Gassim abu Nawar was killed in the assault. The Libyans also lost hundreds of tanks, APC's and trucks.
The Chadians lost 29 killed and 58 wounded.
But there is more to the story. The few Libyans that managed to flee the battle, ran to the next Libyan fortification at the town of Faya-Largeau. This was the home town of the Chadian President.
Some Libyans ran into their own minefields and were stranded and unable to move. They were captured along with the city by the Chadian army on the 27th.
The forces of Chad didn't need to fire a single shot, as the Libyans ran before they arrived.
This part of the Chadian-Libyan conflict became known as the Toyota War, for obvious reasons.