United States government officials have confirmed using a Tunisian air base to conduct surveillance drone operations in neighbouring Libya. The operation forms part of their combat against Islamic State (IS) insurgents in the country.
The unarmed drones are said to be flying out of Tunisia since late June and are meant to help the push by Libya’s pro-government forces to oust IS in the city of Sirte, an unnamed US sources said.
A Tunisian defense official however denied that the drones were flying into Libya rather that they were being used for training Tunisian forces and protecting the country’s borders.
US officials said the Air Force Reaper drones were being operated by US personnel with approval from the host government. He added that they were currently used for only surveillance activities.
‘There are US service members working with the Tunisian security forces for counter terrorism and they are sharing intelligence from various sources, to include aerial platforms,’ Colonel Mark Cheadle, spokesman of the US Africa command said.
Tunisia’s defense Minister is quoted by the state run TAP as saying that Tunis has recently received reconnaissance planes and unmanned drone systems for training and to ‘‘monitor the southern borders and detect any suspicious movements.’‘
Beside the Tunisia base, the US launches drone operations from two other African countries, Niger and Djibouti.
Tunisia has received military materials and training form the US following deadly attacks last year on a beach resort in Sousse. Libya on the other hand is increasingly restive since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi by western forces.
Even though Libya has a UN-backed government, rival governments are not ready to cede power. IS militants have also taken the town of Sirte and are fighting back an onslaught to oust them.