US military base on the Algerian-Tunisian border
Echourouk El Youmi
Dec 29 2013
Following a Tunisian government spokesman's denial of a US presence in Tunisian territory, leaked restricted information and data obtained by Echourouk from the field revealed intense presence of the CIA officers and Africom soldiers in Tunisian territory. The US personnel are concentrated in four locations, two of which are in the south between Ben Gardane and Medenine Communes, and another in the Zarsis area to monitor the Tunisian coast adjacent to Libyan territorial waters. Marines and Africom soldiers have unloaded their equipment at the Chaambi Mountains in Kasserine Governorate; they are led by a senior US officer with the rank of colonel and experts in topography and satellite surveillance equipment. Thus, the presence of US military personnel, accompanied by Tunisian National army senior officers and soldiers, is confirmed. They have been working together for months since the middle of this year, to cooperate and oversee the preparation of a joint US-Tunisian quasi-military base to monitor events in Tunisian territory, such as monitoring people's and vehicles movements in districts and streets in towns, and on main and side roads in Tunisian governorates.
The restricted photographs leaked to Echourouk from the joint military base revealed the presence of senior cadres and officers from the Northern Tunisia Operations Centre, who were supervised by experts from the US intelligence agency. Furthermore, advanced equipment was brought in, such as drones controlled remotely to monitor the movement of jihadist groups, and also to monitor Tunisian towns where there may be the possibility of protest movements. The photographs, obtained by Echourouk's correspondent, explain that US drones take off from Tabarka under US supervision and with the consent of the Tunisian military command, to reach Algerian territory in Annaba, Tarf and Tebessa. This means that they monitor every movement in the mountains, areas and villages of those border provinces where arms smuggling and jihadist groups' movements have been detected occasionally. However, it is not clear so far if the Algerian authorities are aware of these developments, and the US-Tunisian cooperation which could encroach on the Algerian border and territorial integrity.
The US drones are characterised by their precision, and they carry three 360-degree cameras and also missiles which could be operated remotely from the military base where the photographs are received and analysed. They are then sent to Florida where all the photographs and information on events and changes in the areas, and the type of weapons used by the jihadist groups are collated. In an interview with Echourouk, former official at the Tunisian Interior Ministry Hocine El-Khafi, said, "there are 12 jihadist training camps in Tunisia and that is with the knowledge of the Interior Ministry's officials. Those who have been trained are sent to the Algerian Sahara, Mali and Syria". He added: "Whenever there is an explosion in public places, hotels, square or a trade centre, it would have been planned and executed by specialist security services of the Interior Ministry with a view to aggravating the situation, and diverting the Tunisian people's attention to give the impression that terrorism was widespread in the country, and that Al-Qa'idah had infiltrated the people's and civil society's institutions. This subsequently prepares the grounds for the US marines to intervene in Tunisian territory.
Regarding the activities of foreign intelligence services, the official said: "Tunisia has become a fertile ground for the activities of many international espionage agencies, some of which claim to be friendly and others hostile. Perhaps the most dangerous of them are Mossad, the US Central Intelligence Agency and German and French intelligence services, and all those agencies have recruited many agents who are active in the political arena, party leaders, heads of economic corporations and even media operators and journalists. There is no institution where there is no agent working for some intelligence service and provide it with every shred of information." He added: "I believe that whatever goes on in Tunisia in terms of bringing in the US and its soldiers is targeted against our big neighbour, Algeria, only.
Leading member of the Popular Front, Hamma Hammami, said: "As regards US military bases, if their existence in Tunisian territory is confirmed, the Popular Front would be at the forefront of those which would reject them. We will not accept US intervention on our territory because we would consider that as military intervention, that would lead the country to dire consequences and produce violence and counter violence. Mosques have often become places for inciting violence, sedition and discord in Tunisian society and dividing Tunisians on the basis of faith. There is also the violence initiated by the state and government, such as what happened in confronting popular protests, when the security forces used el-Rash (a type of live ammunition) against residents and civilians. Therefore, a climate that contributes to the encouragement of violence and aggravation of tension already exists.
In an interview with Echourouk, the liberal lawyer Mebrouk Khorchid said: "Whoever murdered Chokri Belaid may appear to be a Salafi but will have another agenda which he would work on and execute." He added: "The method of execution and those who helped him in the operation indicate that the ranks of the Salafis have been infiltrated." The opposition figure Khorchid went further and said: "I found some reports on infiltrations within the military establishment, and if you recall the Chaambi incidents when a mine exploded under a military armoured vehicle after the area had been combed by the military before the incident. Even the military command did not deny that there had been infiltration and these infiltrations happen here and there. If we talk about foreign intelligence now, we would talk about military intervention in Tunisia later because it is unlike Algeria and Libya in every way and there is nothing to prevent the US intelligence from attacking the Chaambi Mountains with a drone. If we make an assessment, Tunisia is involved in the international effort and agreement on combating terrorism, which gives the right to the USA to attack any place.
The number two in al-Shari'ah Organization, Seifallah al-Raies said: "We are not ashamed of becoming sandals under the feet of those who lead us with God's book and the traditions of God's messenger. We do not ask to rule and we are not after seats, we ask for the implementation of God's Shari'ah, and if someone else implemented God's Shari'ah and wished to use us, we would become his soldiers and if he dispensed with us we would obey. "The Shari'ah Organization in Tunisia has nothing whatsoever to do with what has been taking place in the Chaambi Mountains near the border with Algeria. These incidents are devised and carried out by some international intelligence services, which wish to have a military foothold in Tunisia. "We wish to bring back the glory of the Tunisia of Kairouan and Zitouna; this is what we want to establish in our country, and we have not been harmed by anyone, nor have we harmed anyone. Let those who have not harmed us rule between us and God in the community, neighbourhood and life.