The Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi has finally confirmed, in a TV interview, that the U.S. has been flying surveillance drones along Tunisia's border with Libya for some time.
Essebsi claimed: “This is part of a military cooperation with the U.S. as part of fighting terrorism in the region.” Essebsi said there were 70 US officers in Tunisia training personnel for the Tunisian army. However, he denied that the U.S. had any airbases in Tunisia. However, there were earlier reports claiming that the U.S. was using a military base in Tunisia to fly drones along the border with Libya. Farhat Horchani, the Tunisian Minister of Defense said that Tunisia had received reconnaissance drones from the U.S. This was part of a military cooperation plan with the U.S. he said.
Another report indicates that Essebsi said that the drones would use Tunisia's military bases for the benefit of Tunisia, Essebsi said the drones were unarmed and were flying over the border at the request of the Tunisian government. The surveillance is to detect threats from the Islamic State and others. Essebsi did not make it clear whether the drones flew over the border into Libyan territory. Essebsi's statement confirms parts of earlier reports in October by the U.S. government that U.S. drones were flying mission into Libya from a military base in Tunisia. The U.S. government claimed that this was allowed as part of a military agreement with Tunisia signed in June 2015 that gives Tunisia the opportunity of operating with the U.S. as a military partner outside of NATO. Essebsi claimed that the agreement allowed the sharing of intelligence information gathered by the flights.
Essebsi said the flights would protect Tunisia against another Ben Guerdane. In March of this year, the Islamic State tried to seize the town in the southeast of Tunisia. Although the attackers were driven away by the military, 20 security forces and civilians were killed. The opposition in Tunisia argues the presence of the U.S. military in Tunisia is a violation of the country's sovereignty. The Tunisian defense minister had earlier denied that the U.S. used an airbase in Tunisia to launch the drones. Essebsi said:"The deal we struck with the Americans concerns intelligence sharing.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."