Tunis- Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi’s recent announcement, in which he confirmed that U.S. surveillance drones were flying over the Tunisian-Libyan border, has sparked a major political debate, as lawmakers called on the government to clarify U.S. reports on such a mission.
In a televised interview late on Tuesday, Essebsi said the measure was needed to avoid cross-border attacks by militants such as an ISIS assault on the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan in March.
The Tunisian president stressed that the drones being used were unarmed, reiterating that there was no U.S. base in Tunisia.
“[The move] is part of military cooperation with the U.S. with a view to fighting terrorism in the region,” he said, adding that 70 U.S. officers were training their counterparts in the Tunisian army.
In earlier remarks, Tunisian Defense Minister Farhat Horchani said his country had received reconnaissance drones from Washington as part of military cooperation between the two countries.
Essebsi said the surveillance drones would be given to Tunisia after training conducted by 70 U.S. soldiers. He did not say how many drones were being used or how long the training would last.
Asked if U.S. drones were flying missions at the border, Essebsi said: “Yes, and it was at our request.”
“Our agreement with the U.S. was to share intelligence information,” he said. He did not say whether the drones were flying across Libyan territory.