The United States has donated two 13.5 metre patrol boats to the Tunisian Navy and will provide seven additional 7.6 metre patrol boats to the country in the next six months to enhance maritime security in the face of terrorism concerns in the region.
The two patrol boats were handed over at La Goulette naval base during a ceremony on August 28 attended by US Ambassador Jake Walles, Minister of Defence Ghazi Jeribi, and Vice Admiral Mohamed Khamassi.
The US embassy said the two vessels – valued at over $2 million – are part of an ongoing programme of assistance to the Tunisian Navy. The United States previously donated five 7.6 metre boats in August 2013.
The new vessels will enable the Tunisian Navy to enhance its maritime security in the face of growing concerns about terrorism in the region. At the same time, the boats will enable Tunisia to better police its exclusive economic zone and guarantee the flow of maritime traffic through this key waterway between North Africa and Europe.
“The US and Tunisia share the common objective of enhancing the operational effectiveness of the Tunisian armed forces in the fight against terrorism. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is developing a variety of ways to assist the Tunisian military accomplish this through the sharing of information, the expansion of training, and the supply of advanced equipment. These modern patrol boats highlight the Embassy’s work with the Tunisian Navy, but the U.S. continues to work with the Army and the Air Force as well. Through joint efforts by the three services, combined with those of the Ministry of Interior’s security forces and the country’s international partners, Tunisia can achieve the level of security that its citizens demand and that will be required to conduct successful elections this fall,” the US Embassy said.
Last month the United States announced it was giving Tunisia $60 million worth of military aid to help it fight Islamist militants who are threatening the country’s nascent democracy. Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, General David Rodriguez, the head of US Africa Command, said some of the money would go on equipment to detect improvised explosive devices, new boats and training.
Also last month, the US donated ten tonnes of protective equipment including helmets, shields and bullet proof vests to equip the special counter-terrorism units of the Tunisian military and police as they battle a growing local and regional terrorist threat.
The United States in July gave approval for the sale of 12 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Tunisia, worth $700 million including equipment, parts, training and logistical support. The UH-60M Black Hawk is the most advanced model of the UH-60/S-70 series, and features the ability to be armed with rockets and missiles. Tunisia has requested Battlehawk kits that effectively turn the aircraft into attack helicopters with 2.75 in laser guided rockets, Hellfire missiles, 7.62 mm and .50 cal machineguns, and thermal imagers and laser designators.
Tunisia’s air force recently ordered two stretched C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin – the first African order for the type.
It is assumed that the armed UH-60Ms will be used against militant groups operating in Tunisia such as Ansar al Sharia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Tunisia is struggling to deal with the rise of conservative Islamist movements and militants since the 2011 revolt that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and opened the way to democracy.
Tunisia is one of the main sources of Islamist militants travelling from North Africa to fight with radical groups in Iraq and Syria.
Apart from the United States, Italy has provided assistance to the Tunisian Navy and National Guard, supplying 12 patrol boats in an attempt to curb the flow of immigrants from North Africa. In terms of the deal, Italy is supplying six P270TN patrol boats for the Tunisian Navy and six P350TNs for the National Guard, all of them built by Cantiere Naval Vittoria (CNV) in Adria. Five P350TNs and three P270TNs have been delivered, with the first being supplied in December 2012. Another two P270TNs will be delivered by October while the remaining P350TN and P270TN (originally options) will be delivered by February 2015.