Blinding Sandstorm of War

Contradictory reports. Evidence that doesn’t make sense. Rumor getting repeated until it seems true. Military historians call this the “fog of war.” What do you call it in a place that’s way too dry for fog? The blinding sandstorm of war?
A week ago rebels in eastern Chad announced that they were launching their third attack this year on President Idriss Deby, whom they accuse of being corrupt. (Well, this is Africa … ) Chad claims the rebels are backed by Sudan. Sudan denies this. Regardless, they were aiming to topple Deby’s regime, which is fortified in the western city of N’Djamena, where I’m currently sitting in a hotel lobby, wired to the internet, watching French soldiers check in.
Out east, there were sightings of up to 300 rebel gun trucks. Gunfire was reported in the town of Goz Beida. An Irish peacekeeping troop said they received incoming fire. In N’Djamena, aid groups prepared to pull out their workers at eastern Chad’s sprawling refugee camps, home to 250,000 Sudanese refugees. The E.U. went on a PR offensive to explain that it’s a neutral force interested only in protecting refugees and aid workers. If a rebel army attacks N’Djamena, the peacekeepers say they will step aside.
But is the rebel threat even real? Everyone in N’Djamena believes something different. The E.U. spokesman says the rebels never appear in large numbers and never stick around. Goz Beida was briefly occupied then abandoned, he says. One U.N. aid worker told me everything was fine. Another said I should be prepared to cancel my plans to travel east.
Who’s right? Who knows? There are very few reporters in the east, and all sides have active spin campaigns underway. The E.U. treads a fine line between its mission — protecting the aid effort — and the missions people want it to have. Deby wants to calm panicky supporters while projecting an image of strength. The rebels want to scare Deby into talks before the rainy season shuts down Chad. What the U.N. wants, I can’t say.
If all goes according to plan, I’ll be in the east myself in a few days, contributing my own spotty reporting to this already confusing situation.