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Esper Arrives in Tunisia on North Africa Tour

Esper Arrives in Tunisia on North Africa Tour

Wednesday, 30 September, 2020 - 11:45
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, seated second from the left, meets with his Tunisian counterpart Ibrahim Bartagi, seated to his right, in the capital Tunis. AFP

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived Wednesday in Tunisia, his first stop on a North Africa tour where he was set to reaffirm US engagement in the Maghreb region.

Esper was set to meet President Kais Saied and Defense Minister Ibrahim Bartagi before delivering a speech at the North Africa American Cemetery in Carthage, where over 2,800 American soldiers were buried, most of them killed during World War II.

Washington in 2015 classified Tunisia as a Major Non-NATO Ally, allowing for reinforced military cooperation.

Since 2011, it has invested more than $1 billion in the Tunisian military, according to Washington's Africa command, Africom.

The US armed forces organized a military air display in March on the southern island of Djerba, AFP reported.

Esper, during his Tunisia visit, was due to warn of growing Russian and Chinese influence on the continent, according to a US official speaking before the trip.

The other goal of the visit was to reinforce ties and discuss the threat of extremists such as the ISIS group, the official said.

Esper was set to visit neighboring Algeria on Thursday, becoming the first US defense secretary to do so since Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.

He will then head to Morocco, the other US Major Non-NATO Ally in the Maghreb region.

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