Panetta extends defensive hand to Tunisia

July 30, 2012 at 11:12 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Defense Department stands ready to help the emerging Tunisian government tackle the threat posed by al-Qaida, the defense secretary said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visits Tunisia as part of a tour of the region. It will mark his first trip to the country.

A protest suicide in Tunisia in 2010 sparked the so-called Arab Spring. Islamist party Ennahdha took control over the Tunisian government in elections that followed the collapse of the government of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

"I want to commend the Tunisian people and the success of their revolution and to thank the Tunisian armed forces for the positive role that they played during that time of change," Panetta said in a statement.

In the wake of the revolution, Panetta said the U.S. and Tunisian governments were working on a new chapter in bilateral defense ties.

"We also stand ready to support the Tunisian government's efforts to strengthen the capacity of their defense institutions," he said. "They have growing concerns about how to deal with al-Qaida, how to deal with (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb), and they've also indicated growing concerns about how to protect their borders."

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