Since 2014, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, Mongi Hamdi, along with military and political circles of the country have been categorically denying the fact that an American military base has been deployed in the country. These circles have repeatedly assured reporters that Tunisia’s armed forces can independently ensure security of the country, therefore its territory is not used and will not be used to affect the situation in Libya.
Today, however, the existence of a US base deep inside Tunisia’s territory is no longer a secret. This fact has been reported repeatedly and in great detail by such media sources as Reuters and the Washington Post.
Moreover, back in May 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached a political agreement with Tunisian representative Mohcen Marzouk regarding US use of Tunisian territory. Back then it was stated explicitly that drones produced by Boeing and Insitu would be used for reconnaissance, battlefield surveillance and target acquisition.
In September 2016, during the visit by the Tunisian President to the United States, the parties decided to develop their military ties further, since Washington agreed to provide additional assistance to Tunisia in the amount of 250 million dollars, which resulted in the signing of a secret agreement on the permanent stationing of US drones inside Tunisia’s territory. This redeployment of US drones from the American base at Sigonella in Sicily was a forced move on the part of Washington since Italy refused to allow armed US drones on its territory due to the spread of anti-war sentiments among its population.
Representatives of the Tunisian government sought to hide the fact that Washington had been using its territory in this North African nation as a base for its drones, as it is clearly concerned about the possible outrage of its population, including those who don’t desire their government to be in any way connected with military operations against neighboring countries.
It’s safe to say that the US has been using its drones stationed on Tunisian territory since June, having already carried out at least 300 military sorties into neighboring Libya, operating primarily in the Sirte area. It’s been reported that US drones in Tunisia are being serviced by a total of 70 US soldiers.
In a bid to provide the international community with a pretext for the use of its drones in Tunisia, Washington has been recently stressing the growth of the ISIS threat in Libya. Additionally, it has recently started showing interest towards the recently established United Arab Emirates Air Force base in the vicinity of Benghazi, Libya.
As for Tunisia, this state is gradually evolving into the most reliable partner in the North Africa region in the eyes of Western think-tanks. The recent deployment of UK military advisers in Tunisia confirms this trend along with the active development of bilateral military cooperation between Washington and Tunis.
According to the released documents, the Intercept notes, the United States has recently built yet another base for its drones in the very heart of Niger – the city of Agadez, from where it will be able to carry out strikes against the territories of Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria and Mali. This project’s worth is believed to be approximately 100 million dollars.
But since Washington has reached an agreement with Tunisia now, it will significantly expand the range of its reconnaissance and military operations throughout North Africa.
This development is particularly important for Washington under present circumstances, with some North African countries (especially Algeria and Egypt) trying to demonstrate their political independence from Washington, being fed up with instructions from overseas. The complicated situation in Algeria is making Tunisia an even more valuable ally for Washington, since Algiers has been playing a pivotal role in the strategic plans of the US government.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”