WASHINGTON Aug 5 The United States is planning
to sell Tunisia a dozen advanced attack helicopters as
Washington seeks to help the North African state stamp out a
mounting threat from Islamist militants.
"We asked the United States to give us about 12 Black
Hawks," Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said during a speech
on Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
"We badly need them now," he said.
The Obama administration is planning to sell Tunisia 12
UH-60M Black Hawks for a total estimated cost of $700 million,
according to a notice posted late last month by the Defense
Security Cooperation Agency, a U.S 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. The sale requires consent of Congress.
The Black Hawk is built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of
United Technologies Corp.
Tunisia, where the revolutions that have transformed the
Arab world in recent years began, is in many ways more stable
and secure than other Arab Spring countries such as Libya and
But Tunisia is facing a militant threat of its own, mostly
due to attacks mounted by the al Qaeda offshoot Ansar al-Sharia
and to a flow of fighters and weapons unleashed by other
conflicts in the region.
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.
Tunisia's capital, Tunis, was the site of an attack on the
U.S. embassy in September 2012.
"We didn't expect that Tunisia would become a country where
(we) would have these terrorist attacks like in Syria," said
Marzouki, who was in Washington for a summit between U.S and
African leaders. "We were a little bit naive."
Marzouki said the Tunisian military also required training
and other equipment such as night vision goggles.
"It's a matter of urgency," he said, suggesting the period
ahead of Tunisia's upcoming elections could be subject to
renewed violence. Tunisians are due to vote in parliamentary and
presidential elections this fall.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Leslie Adler)