The Tunisian Ministry of Defense has denied Washington Post’s report which stated that US has been flying surveillance drones out of unspecified bases within Tunisia.
“The Ministry of National Defense denies the reports circulating in foreign media outlets concerning the existence of US bases in Tunisia or the use of the Tunisian soil to target military spots in Libya.” Tunisian officials were quoted as saying by Tunisialive Thursday.
As part of Tunisian-US bilateral cooperation, the US drones are acquired to train our military personnel to use this technology and to control out southeastern border with Libya and detect any suspicious movement there, a defence ministry spokesman said. But “Tunisian soil would never be used to strike targets in Libya. The drones are used by Tunisians and no one else,” Belhassen Oueslati said.
During late June, many American Air Force Reaper drones began flying out of the Tunisian base and since then the force has been conducting surveillance operations over Libya. The drones are said to be supported by 70 members of the US military.
However, the military relations between both the nations is limited only to US training on Surveillance and this initiative was already announced in March, the officials said.
The US media also quoted unnamed US officials saying that the drones operating out of Tunisia were principally being used to collect intelligence on IS militants, (Daesh) targets in Sirte, Libya, where the US has conducted more than 300 airstrikes since August.
“Tunisian officials negotiating the drone deal were particularly concerned about a public backlash over cooperation with a foreign power and wanted to avoid the appearance that they were a party to US military operations in a neighboring country,” Washington Post said.
Establishing the bases in Tunisia would close a critical “blind spot” for western intelligence services in North Africa that has become Daesh’s largest base of operations outside of Syria and Iraq, US officials told the Post.