US uses Tunisian air base to fly surveillance drones inside Libya

Unarmed drones have been flying out of Tunisia since late June and are now part of a US air defense in support of Libyan pro-government forces fighting ISIS. (File photo: Reuters)
Unarmed drones have been flying out of Tunisia since late June and are now part of a US air defense in support of Libyan pro-government forces fighting ISIS. (File photo: Reuters)

The United States has started using a Tunisian air base to carry out surveillance drone operations inside Libya, reported Reuters from U.S. government sources said on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.

The unarmed drones have been flying out of Tunisia since late June and are now part of a U.S. air defense in support of Libyan pro-government forces fighting to push Islamic State fighters out of their stronghold in the Libyan city of Sirte, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The use of the Tunisian base, which was first reported by The Washington Post, extends the U.S. military’s ability to gather intelligence on Islamic State in Libya, the U.S. sources said. Other locations in Africa where U.S. drones are launched, including Niger and Djibouti, are farther away.

In Tunis, a Tunisian defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that the drones were flying into neighboring Libya and said they were instead used for training Tunisian forces and protecting the country’s borders.

U.S. officials said the Air Force Reaper drones were being operated by U.S. personnel with Tunisian government approval from an existing base operated by Tunisia’s military and were currently used only for surveillance. But such unmanned aircraft are also capable of being armed.

“There are U.S. service members working with the Tunisian security forces for counter terrorism and they are sharing intelligence from various sources, to include aerial platforms,” said U.S. Army Colonel Mark Cheadle, spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.

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