By Houda Trabelsi
Tunisia’s army needs “logistical support” to “boost its capabilities in confronting the danger of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)”, Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi told US Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray earlier this week in Tunis.
Zbidi on Tuesday (June 19th) requested help to bolster the army’s “operational capability and aptitude to perform its mission of guaranteeing stability in the country’s border areas”, TAP reported.
The minister stressed Tunisia’s “keenness on more co-ordination and co-operation with neighbouring countries to help secure the region and ensure its stability”. He also underscored his country’s “endeavours to preserve the security of Mediterranean region in the framework of institutional co-operation relations based on partnership and reciprocity”.
Tunisia has earlier warned that AQIM gunmen sneaked into the country across the border with Libya and Algeria and are threatening the region’s security.
“Tunisia is considered a strategic point in AQIM’s plans to impose its domination on the ground,” Bassel Torjman, an expert in Maghreb affairs and specialist in Islamic movements, told Magharebia.
The request for help is “very logical” in this context, he added, and “does not mean that the Tunisian army has an armament problem”. “Rather, it’s a matter related to the need to monitor these groups which are spread over very large desert areas in a border triangle between Libya, Tunisia and,” Torjman explained.
Tunisia has a 1,000km border with Algeria and 500km border with Libya. Arms smuggling has spread since the ouster of former Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi who was killed in October 2011.
“The request for support is primarily aimed at protecting Tunisian soil and preventing a repetition of the Malian model in southern Tunisia and areas along it in Libya and Algeria,” Torjman said.
“The threat facing Tunisia is serious and big and needs more than logistical, intelligence and information support,” he noted. “This is because the capabilities the extremist groups have obtained in terms of weapons and equipment, especially from Libya, will give them major military capacities making their threats to the area an extremely dangerous thing.”
The expert suggested that terrorist groups may possess “heavy weapons”, such as “surface-to-surface missiles with a range of more than 20 kilometers”.
The state “can seek support” if it is not able to provide security and stability, Lotfi Azzouz, director of Amnesty International Tunisia, told Magharebia.
“However, we have to ensure that all types of provided support for training military, security and police forces will help enhance the foundations of accountability, principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” he added.
Meanwhile, a Tunisian military airstrike late Wednesday night destroyed a convoy of arms traffickers in Tataouine, TAP reported on Thursday (June 21st).
The occupants of three vehicles reportedly initiated the incident by firing on an aircraft that was patrolling the extreme southern border region.
The convoy was reportedly transporting arms from Libya.