Thursday, March 24, 2016

Russia Promises Helicopters, Gear for Tunisia's Anti-Terrorism Fight
Oscar Nkala, Defense News 4:34 p.m. EDT March 24, 2016
Sergey Lavrov, Khemaies Jhinaoui
(Photo: Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

GABORONE, Botswana — The Russian government has reportedly pledged to provide helicopters, night-vision goggles and bullet-proof vests to Tunisian security forces to fight al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in North Africa.

The announcement was made by Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui shortly after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow last week to seek Russian help in securing its border to combat the terrorist threat from neighboring Libya.

The announcement came as Russia and Algeria revealed that an agreement on the sharing of satellite surveillance information on regional terrorist movements has helped the Algerian Army in conducting a string of successful counterterrorism operations.

Jhinaoui traveled to Moscow after the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 50 people in the Tunisian border town of Ben Gardane on March 7.

"The use of Russia’s experience in repelling terrorism was naturally on the agenda (of the meeting in Moscow)," Jhinaoui said. "We think Russia’s experience in this sphere is successful and we are interested in using this experience with an aim of stabilizing the security situation in our country.

"Terrorism is an international phenomenon which concerns all countries and we are convinced that help is needed from all the states in various formats, including exchange of information and contacts between relevant security agencies."

In September 2014, Russia pledged to provide Tunisia with counterterrorism training, night-vision goggles and bullet-proof vests to improve the capabilities of its newly formed counterterrorism units. None of the equipment has been delivered to date.

However, some of the Russian equipment is likely to be delivered ahead of President Vladmir Putin's planned state visit to Tunisia in May. Since 2014, the two countries have deepened diplomatic cooperation through the Russian-Tunisian Inter Governmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation that meets annually in May.

According to Tunisian daily newspaper Al Sabah, the Russian Army has expanded its counterterrorism strategy in the Maghreb by providing the Algerian and Tunisian armies with satellite imagery of terrorist movements across their borders with Libya, Niger and Mali.

The paper quoted officials saying the information had helped Algeria and Tunisia foil several infiltration attempts by terrorist militias and weapons smugglers from Libya.


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