Tunisia’s government backs Germany’s plan to send troops to the country to train troops from neighboring Libya for the fight against ISIS group, the Tunisian defense minister said on Tuesday.
Representatives of the defense and foreign ministries would hold talks in Tunis on Thursday and Friday about how the German military could lend support in a training mission, Bild am Sonntag Newspaper reported.
It said the engagement encompasses training Tunisian soldiers first and could eventually be extended to Libyan soldiers by setting up a training camp in Tunisia, as a contribution toward regional stability.
“The ISIS terror is threatening all of North Africa,” German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the newspaper.
She said it was therefore essential “to make every effort to support countries struggling with democracy such as Tunisia”.
“And if its direct neighbor Libya manages to put in place a unity government one day, its security forces could also benefit from established training facilities in Tunisia,” she added.
The ISIS militants have taken advantage of political disarray and a security vacuum in Libya to expand their presence there, taking control of the city of Sirte and staging a number of attacks.
Western officials are deliberating on ways to fight the group, including the use of air strikes and Special Forces operations, though plans for outside assistance have been hindered by the failure of a United Nations-backed unity government in Libya to win wide approval in the country.
Last week a German delegation visited Tunisia to discuss a training program for Libyan forces.
“We agree on the principle of the project,” Tunisian Defence Minister Farhat Harchani said in an interview with the TAP state news agency.
He offered no details on the nature or the timing of the training, but said Tunisian forces would also take part.
“We will participate in the formation of the nucleus of the Libyan army and security forces in Tunisia. This is our duty and we will help Libya to get it done,” he said.
Tunisia has been struggling to contain its own militant threat, and thousands of Tunisians have gone to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Tunisia suffered two devastating attacks targeting its vital tourist sector last year, in the beach resort of Sousse and on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that together left 60 people dead. Both were claimed by ISIS. Authorities say the attackers trained in Libya before returning home.
In order to stop militants from crossing the border, Tunisia recently completed a 200-km (125 mile) barrier consisting of an earth wall and trenches along its frontier with Libya. European and U.S. military trainers are to instruct Tunisian forces on improving electronic surveillance there.
Britain said on Monday it had sent a team of 20 military personnel to Tunisia to deliver mobile patrolling and surveillance training on the border. It said an analogous training mission had been conducted at the end of last year.