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UK troops sent to Libya-Tunisia border

February 29, 2016

Defense Minister Michael Fallon has told the UK parliament a team of 20 troops are heading to Tunisia to stop illegal border entry from Libya. The West is concerned "Islamic State" (IS) fighters may be using the route.

Tunisian troops close to Libya border
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Messara

"A training team of some 20 troops from the 4th Infantry Brigade is now moving to Tunisia to help counter illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of the Tunisian authorities," Fallon told British MPs on Monday.

Their mission is to help stop people crossing illegally from neighboring Libya, which remains in chaos due to a political vacuum created by two rival governments.

Fallon said the training team would help Tunisian authorities combat the threat posed by IS jihadists who can slip easily from Libya into Tunisia, where the group has carried out several deadly attacks.

'Hotbed' for terrorists

Last week, The Wall Street Journal said up to 7,000 Tunisians have left to fight for IS, adding that a further 15,000 have been prevented from international travel amid concerns they may intend to join up. High unemployment has raised concerns that young Tunisians are at risk of being radicalized.

Tunisia beach attack
The attack at the Sousse beach resort left 40 people deadImage: Reuters/A.b. Aziza

Islamist extremists attacked a museum in Tunisia's capital Tunis last March killing 22 people. In June, an IS gunman shot dead 40 people, mostly tourists, many of whom were British, at the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse.

Fallon said Britain was willing to provide military advice and training to Libya's fledgling unity government. But he added: "we do not intend to deploy ground forces in any combat role."

He also denied that British pilots, embedded with other air forces, had taken part in missions over the country.

Heading to Europe?

Western intelligence officials believe IS has exploited the chaos in Libya to grab large swathes of land. They think jihadist fighters may even use the same route through Tunisia to travel to Europe to carry out missions.

Libya was thrown into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Two rival parliaments and governments have tussled for power since 2014, after an Islamist-led militia alliance overran Tripoli and forced the internationally-recognized administration to flee to the remote east of the oil-rich nation.

The West is pressuring for a national unity government to be installed, which could request international military help to dislodge IS in Libya.

mm/rc (AFP, AP)