We need Tunisia in the fight against ISIS

President Trump’s proposed budget, which cuts financial aid to Tunisia, not only represents a stark departure from the president’s plan to “demolish and destroy” the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), but could have dangerous consequences for Americans and our allies. Slashing military aid to a country on the front lines with ISIS is both misguided and dangerous.

The proposed cut is one of the more troubling aspects of Trump’s foreign aid budget, which decreases bilateral aid to Tunisia by 67 percent. The proposal would zero out the foreign military financing account by switching Tunisia’s military assistance package from a grant to a loan.

The United States has been instrumental in shoring up Tunisia’s security since the 2011 revolution. U.S. and European assistance has not only provided essential equipment for the Tunisian police and military, but also helped professionalize the security forces and train them in counter-terrorism tactics. This support has allowed Tunisia to build a partial border wall with Libya to prevent smuggling of goods and people. And in 2015, the U.S. designated Tunisia a Major Non-NATO Ally — only the 16th country worldwide to receive such a designation— that was meant to bolster the American-Tunisian security partnership.

But while Tunisia has not experienced a domestic terror attack in well over a year, the country is not as secure as it may seem. Tunisia continues to face dual threats — from ISIS next door in Libya and from al Qaeda affiliates along the border with Algeria. Tunisians make up one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters assisting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. And the country is currently struggling with how to handle hundreds of those fighters as they return home.

Additionally, ongoing protests in Tunisia’s south, while not directly linked to terrorism, have sown seeds of instability in these remote regions. The weeks-long protests reflect a growing sense of frustration among Tunisian youth, in particular, that keeps the extremist recruitment pipeline flowing.

Aside from foreign military aid, the 2018 budget request does provide a small amount ($14.6 million) between three other security-related accounts, but this is a significant decrease from the $21.4 million slotted for these categories last year and will not come anywhere close to meeting Tunisia’s security needs. Given all of Tunisia’s challenges, it is clear that Tunisia’s security assistance needs remain as high today as they have ever been.

The Hill

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