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Tunisia Backs Plan to Host German Troops to Train Libyan Army

A man pulls a wheelbarrow past destroyed buildings after clashes between forces loyal to Libya's eastern government and Islamist fighters, in Benghazi, Feb. 28, 2016. Islamic State militants have expanded their control amid Libya's strife.

Tunisia's government backs a plan for German forces to come to the country to train troops from neighboring Libya for the fight against Islamic State militants, the Tunisian defense minister said on Tuesday.

The Islamic State militants have taken advantage of political chaos and a security vacuum in Libya to expand their presence there, taking control of the city of Sirte and staging frequent attacks.

Western officials are discussing ways to counter the group, including through the use of air strikes and Special Forces operations, though plans for outside assistance have been hampered by the failure of a United Nations-backed unity
government in Libya to win wide approval in the country.

Last week a German delegation visited Tunisia to discuss a training program for Libyan forces.

"We agree on the principle of the project," Tunisian Defense Minister Farhat Harchani said in an interview with the TAP state news agency.

He gave no details on the nature of the training or when it might happen, but said Tunisian forces would also take part.

"We will participate in the formation of the nucleus of the Libyan army and security forces in Tunisia. This is our duty and we will help Libya to get it done," he said.

Tunisia has been struggling to contain its own militant threat, and thousands of Tunisians have gone to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Authorities say gunmen who killed dozens of tourists at a museum and a beach resort in Tunisia last year trained in Libya before returning home.

Tunisia recently completed a 200-km (125 mile) barrier consisting of an earth wall and trenches along its frontier with Libya, aimed at stopping militants from crossing the border.

European and U.S. military trainers are to instruct Tunisian forces on improving electronic surveillance there.

Britain said on Monday it had sent a team of 20 military personnel to Tunisia to provide mobile patrolling and surveillance training on the border. It said a similar training mission had been conducted at the end of last year.

Last month the United States carried out an air strike on a suspected Islamic State training camp in the western Libyan city of Sabratha, killing more than 40 people, many of them believed to be Tunisians.