Tunisian president confirms presence of US drones on Libyan border
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi has confirmed that the US is operating spy drones over the Tunisian border with Libya, in an admission likely to cause controversy.
Essebsi said in a recent interview with the regional channel El Hiwar Ettounsi that the drone flights were needed to avoid such cross-border terrorist attacks as a raid in March on the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan.
“We do not have clear information, and we should act instead of waiting until another Ben Guerdan,” the Tunisian president said.
Dozens of Daesh terrorists stormed the Tunisian border town of Ben Guerdan back then, attacking army and police posts. At least 53 people were killed in the attack, including civilians.
The question of the presence of the US military in Tunisia is likely to bruise local feelings in the North African country. The political opponents of President Essebsi will most likely interpret it as a breach of national sovereignty.
In an apparent attempt to defuse such concerns, Essebsi said that the drones used by the US are, at the request of the Tunisian authorities, not armed and that operating the surveillance drones will be handed over to Tunisia itself after Tunisian pilots have been trained by US soldiers.
“These drones are not offensive and their use is undertaken in the framework of a bilateral deal stipulating the exchange of intelligence and supply of drones to Tunisia after the end of their mission and expertise by Tunisian military forces in their use,” he said.
The president, however, did not say whether the drones are flying in Libyan airspace, too, or how long they have been operating in Tunisia.
Tunisia has experienced violence since the 2011 uprising that ousted the country’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The country has also been affected by the growing instability in neighboring Libya, which has been in chaos since former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and later killed in 2011.
Since November 2015, Tunisia has been in a state of emergency over deadly attacks by Daesh on a museum in Tunis and a seaside resort in Sousse.
Washington has been conducting targeted killings through the use of remotely-controlled armed drones in several countries, angering the local populations without exception.