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Tunisia - Foreign Military Assistance

Lacking a domestic arms industry, Tunisia since independence has remained dependent upon foreign sources for armaments and other defense-related equipment as well as for much of its military training. The United States and France, historically Tunisia's most important suppliers, continued to be predominant sources of aid in the l980s when the country's military buildup caused a vast expansion in its arms imports. In the context of the ANT's growth, foreign military assistance has come to be an increasingly impor. tant military requirement and economic concern.

The United States began providing military assistance to Tunisia in 1957, and in 1967 a military liaison office attached to the United States embassy in Tunis was established. Throughout the first 20 years of Tunisian independence, however, United States military assistance remained modest, and the cost to Tunisia was low. Many of the most important items-including the F-86 fighters delivered in l969-were surplus United States Air Force equipment supplied on a grant basis under the Military Assistance Program (MAP). ANT personnel were also trained through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which was cost-free to the Tunisian government. Tunisian purchase of United States military equipment under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program never exceeded US$2.3 million in any year before United States fiscal year (FY) 1977 and were generally far less. In FY 1977, however, as Tunisia first began to modernize its armed forces, it placed some US$44 million in orders for United States equipment through the FMS program. The equipment it received included mainly transport helicopters and armored personnel carriers.

The Gafsa incident in 1980 and the specter of Libyan involvement served as an impetus for increased United States interest in supporting Tunisia's military needs. In early 1980 a survey team from the United States Department of Defense was dispatched to Tunisia to outline the country's defense capabilities and requirements. Its report found that the ANT was so poorly equipped that it could probably not offer more than token resistance against an attack from Libya. In particular, the Tunisian military was lacking infantry weapons, communications equipment, and transport, including trucks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. The team also noted that Tunisia did not have an air defense capability or the ability to deter an armored thrust; the acquisition of interceptor aircraft and tanks would help remedy these deficiencies. Tunisian-American talks on new arms sales began but were stalled by the reluctance of the American administration to finance the costs - estimated by one source to be some US$1 billion - implied by these purchases.

The administration of United States president Ronald Reagan was willing to supply arms to Tunisia as a counter to Libyan strength in the region, but, like its predecessor, it was reluctant to bear the high costs of Tunisian military modernization. Purchases of M-60 tanks and F-S jet fighters were approved in 1981 but were delayed by Tunisian difficulties in finding financing. Finally, in 1982, the United States agreed to sell Tunisia the tanks and aircraft in a US$293 million arms deal to be financed largely by commercial loans guaranteed by the United States Department of Defense. Between FY 1982 and FY 1984 the United States government annually guaranteed some US$90 million in loans for Tunisian military procurement but, because the loans had to be repaid, the costs of the purchases were difficult for Tunisia to meet. Continued difficulties in financing the sale caused the deliveries of the F-Ss and the M-60s to be delayed until 1984 and 1985.

After the delivery of the aircraft and tanks, many United States officials believed that, despite Tunisia's continued problems with Libya, arms purchases from the United States would decline as Tunisia absorbed the new equipment in its military inventories and turned to the business of paying for it. At the time of Bourguiba's June 1985 visit to the United States, therefore, many were surprised when the president made a request for US$1 billion in grants to finance a second stage of military modernization, including another squadron of fighter aircraft. In late 1985 there was no indication that financing for such an expansion could be arranged.

The United States began increasing grant assistance through the MAP program, the Economic Support Fund, and the IMET program. (Between 1957 and FY 1984 some 1,740 Tunisian students had been trained in Tunisia or overseas under the IMET program, nearly 600 after 1980.) In FY 1985 it was estimated that some US$36 million in military assistance was supplied to Tunisia on a grant basis. This compared favorably with US$22.5 million in arms agreements made between the two countries that year and US$50 million in loans directly from the United States government, half of which were made at concessional rates.

Apart from high costs, some observers anticipated that political difficulties linked to the initial United States reaction to the Israeli air raid on the PLO headquarters in late 1985 might weaken Tunisia's security ties with the United States. Although there were reports that negotiations over the proposed United States use of a bombing range in Tunisian territory had briefly stalled, there was no indication that any aspect of the military relationship had been significantly affected.

The United States Liaison Office Tunisia (USLOT) was first established on 1 April 1968, to oversee the U.S. government's security assistance program in Tunisia. By 1992 it managed some 105 cases valued at nearly $282 million. Twenty-four cases were closed in 1991.

FMF: Foreign Military Financing for FY2008 was $8.3 million; for FY2009 it was $12 million; and $15 million for FY2010. IMET : International Military Education and Training funds for FY2008 was $1.7 million; for FY2009 it was $1.7 million; and $2.3 million for FY2010.

France also furnished considerable military assistance to Tunisia and has had a marked influence on the ANT's establishment at all levels. A French liaison unit within the Ministry of National Defense provided guidance in organizational, planning, and logistical matters, mainly for the army and the navy. Tunisian officers and NCOs have been trained at French military academies, and French officers have been assigned to ANT schools and units to assist in training. French equipment provided to Tunisia has included trainer and transport aircraft, helicopters, naval vessels, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms, and ammunition. Before the 1980s the French provided the bulk of the equipment used by the Tunisian army and navy, but after 1980 the United States became more prominent in equipping the army. Apparently, the French government of President Franois Mitterand has not been as willing as the Americans to furnish military equipment on a concessional basis, and a proposed purchase of Mirage F-1 fighters was never made. The most notable French arms sale to Tunisia in the 1980s involved the three missile-armed Combattante Ill fast-attack craft.

Although the United States and France have supplied Tunisia with the bulk of its military equipment, other countries have also provided the ANT with valuable assistance. Britain, Italy, and Sweden have been among the most important of these. Certain Arab countries-chief among them Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - have helped to finance Tunisian military purchases, and Tunisian officials were reportedly hoping that they could assist in paying for the proposed second round of military modernization. Algeria, an increasingly valuable ally in the 1980s because of the conflict with Libya, was also reportedly willing to give military aid to Tunisia.

Its ability to furnish Tunisia with military equipment was limited, however, because the ANT was equipped almost exclusively with Western-made hardware, whereas the Algerian armed forces relied mainly on Soviet-type equipment. Tunisia, in keeping with its declared policy of nonalignment, has received some military equipment from communist countries. Notably, the Tunisian navy received two armed fast.attack craft from China in 1977. In addition, although the Soviet Union did not provide Tunisia with significant military assistance, Soviet naval and merchant vessels regularly called at Tunisian ports and occasionally used their ship repair facilities. Twenty-one Soviet naval vessels called at Tunisian ports in 1984, compared with six port calls by the United States Navy.



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