The United States has agreed to fund a multi-million USD project to install an electronic surveillance system along Tunisia’s border with Libya and disbursed the first installment of funding for the project to reinforce the security barrier along the northern portion of the Tunisia-Libya border.
The U.S. embassy said the project would install and train Tunisian forces in the use of “an integrated monitoring system based on remote monitoring sensors and basic equipment for border security.” The U.S. Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has awarded the contract to the U.S. construction group BTP and consulting and engineering firm AECOM.
The U.S. embassy said in a statement Friday, March 25 that the U.S. was disbursing the first installment of a $24.9 million project to install an electronic surveillance system along the recently completed security barrier that spans 250 km from Ras Jedir to Dehiba. The barrier, a system of fences, sand walls, trenches and moats covers the portion of the Tunisia-Libya border to the north of a vast military exclusion zone in Tunisia’s southern desert. The security barrier was completed in February after construction was initiated after the June 2015 attack on the El Kantaoui beach resort in Sousse in which gunman Seifeddine Rezgui killed thirty eight foreign tourists after Rezgui, according to the Tunisian authorities received training at militant camps outside the Libyan city of Sabratha.
On March 6, Defense Minister Horchani told Mosaique FM that military engineers from the U.S. and Germany are expected to arrive in Tunisia on Monday, March 7, to begin installing an advanced electronic surveillance system along Tunisia’s border with Libya. The following day at dawn dozens of militants attacked the city of Ben Guerdane near the Libyan border.
Prime Minister Habib Essid in an interview on the “Tunis-Paris” television news program, a joint production of France24 and Wataniya 1, said a study of the project would be completed in April. According to Essid’s interview on Friday, Tunisian security forces “have killed 55 terrorists and arrested 52” in ongoing security operations since the March 7, attack.
Essid’s tally is slightly above the Ministry of the Interior’s last official toll on militants involved in the clashes which stood at forty nine militants killed and nine arrested. There have been numerous arrests and clashes, with several resulting in militants being killed, but not all have been officially confirmed to be of militants having participated in, or been directly involved, in the March 7 attack.
The Tunisian authorities have stated that the unprecedented attack was an attempt by Tunisian militants, active in Libya, to establish an Islamic State emirate in Tunisia.
Tunisian security officials believe all three gunmen behind the Bardo and Sousse attacks of 2015 had trained in militant camps outside Sabratha, in Libya. After the Sousse attack the Tunisian authorities began construction on a 250 km ‘security barrier’ along its border with Libya.
The Islamic State affiliated, Jund al-Khilafah, claimed responsibility for the Bardo and Sousse attacks, and in November Jund al-Khilafah also claimed to be behind the suicide bombing in Tunis which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.
On February 19, a U.S. airstrike targeted Tunisian militants outside the Libyan city of Sabratha. The primary target of the airstrike was Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted Tunisian authorities for his role in the Bardo National Museum attack in March 2015, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants, the vast majority of whom were Tunisian nationals.
Estimates of Tunisians who have left the country to join militant organizations range from 3,000 to 6,000, approximately half of whom are believed to be in Libya.
The Ras Jedir and Dhehiba border crossings between Tunisia and Libya were reopened earlier this week after all cross border traffic was suspended after the attack on Ben Guerdane.