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US to sell attack helicopters to Tunisia

Delivery of 12 Black Hawks needed for battling armed groups called "matter of urgency" by Tunisian president.

Last updated: 06 Aug 2014 11:49
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John Kerry, US secretary of state, met his Tunisian counterpart Mongi Hamdi in Washington on Tuesday [Reuters]

The US is planning to sell Tunisia a dozen advanced attack helicopters as it seeks to help the North African country confront a mounting threat from armed groups.

Moncef Marzouki , the Tunisian president, who is in Washington DC for a summit between US and African leaders, has described the purchase "a matter of urgency".

"We asked the United States to give us about 12 Black Hawks," he said during a speech on Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

"We badly need them now ... we didn't expect that Tunisia would become a country where [we] would have these terrorist attacks like in Syria.

"We were a little bit naive."

The Obama administration is planning to sell Tunisia 12 UH-60M Black Hawks for a total estimated cost of $700m, according to a notice posted late last month by the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, a US government agency that manages arms sales.

The aircraft would be equipped with Hellfire missiles, machine guns and other sophisticated military technology, according to the agency. However, the sale requires consent from the US Congress.

Tunisia has faced attacks mounted by the al-Qaeda offshoot Ansar al-Sharia, as well as an influx of fighters and weapons unleashed by other conflicts in the region.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Tunis, said that there is strong public support to combat these fighters.

Since April, thousands of troops have been deployed to Tunisia's mountainous Chaambi region on the border with Algeria, where fighters fleeing a French military intervention in Mali last year have taken refuge.

At least 15 soldiers have been killed in attacks on military checkpoints in the area.

Tunisians are due to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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