Defense Ministry spokesman, Belhassen Oueslati, denied Sunday, March 13, reports in the British tabloid press that British special forces had participated in security operations in Ben Guerdane.
Oueslati said operations were led by a purely, and exclusively, Tunisian command composed of the National Army and internal security forces, there was no foreign role either in combat operations or as advisers relating to the security operations in Ben Guerdane. Oueslati also added that “the presence of military and foreign experts in Tunisia is part of well-defined training programs” which do not lie in the Ben Guerdane region.
At dawn on Monday, March 7, approximately fifty militants simultaneously attacked security installations and personnel in Ben Guerdane, in operations during and following the attack Tunisian security forces have killed forty nine suspected terrorists and arrested nine believed to have been directly involved in the attack, according to a joint communique from the Ministries of the Interior and Defense.
The denial stemmed from reports in the British tabloid The Sun, which declared “Brit special forces join fierce Tunisia battle as ISIS try to overthrow town” in which it said that British “Soldiers are assisting as advisors amid week long battle near Libyan border.” The story was then picked up by another tabloid The Mirror, which added “Islamic State extremists laid siege to the city of Ben Guerdane on Wednesday but British troops have been directing the Tunisian counter-insurgency fight”. Both the Sun and the Mirror stated that 15 British special forces in civilian clothes had been involved in the security operations in Ben Guerdane.
On Tuesday March 1, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Belhassen Oueslati in a statement to TAP, indicated that 20 military personnel from the U.K. were already in Tunisia for a training program which had begun on February 8.
That announcement came in response to the announcement by the British Defense Secretary, Michael Fallon, on Monday, February 29, that U.K. military personnel were already in Tunisia to provide “mobile patrolling and surveillance training in Tunisia” to the 1st Brigade of the Tunisian National Army.
A week ago, Defense Minister Horchani told Mosaique FM that military engineers from the U.S. and Germany were expected to arrive in Tunisia on Monday, March 7, the day of the Ben Guerdane attack, to begin installing an advanced electronic surveillance system along Tunisia’s border with Libya.
The surveillance system will be installed along the recently completed security barrier that spans 250 km from Ras Jedir to Dehiba. The barrier comprises a system of fences, sand walls, trenches and moats and covers the portion of the Libyan border that is north of a vast military exclusion zone in Tunisia’s southern desert.
Construction of the security barrier had was begun in June of 2015 in response to the Sousse beach attack. Which killed 38, mostly British tourists.