News reports show Tunisia in chaos, with police and civilians clashing in the capital following demonstrations against the country’s corrupt dictator, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Ben Ali took power in a coup in 1987. Today, he has dissolved parliament, fired his cabinet, imposed curfews and declared “a state of emergency.” Update: Ben Ali fled his country for France. This Twitter feed by a UAE-based journalist is a good source for the latest updates on the situation.
Between 1987 and 2009, the US military signed $349 million in military sales agreements with Ben Ali’s government. Last year, the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a $282 million sale of 12 “excess” Sirkorsky military helicopters to Tunisia, with engines by General Electric.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for economic and military progress in North Africa,” said the Pentagon’s formal Congressional notification of the helicopter deal.
US military aid to the government of Tunisia, 1987-2009
Dollars reported in thousands. Source: Department of Defense.
Here’s last year’s “foreign military sales” announcement by the Pentagon:
Tunisia – Refurbishment of Twelve SH-60F Multi-Mission Helicopters
WASHINGTON, July 2, 2010 – The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress June 30 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Tunisia for the refurbishment of 12 SH-60F Multi-Mission Utility Helicopters, being provided as Excess Defense Articles, and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $282 million.
The Government of Tunisia has requested a possible sale for the refurbishment of twelve SH-60F Multi-Mission Utility Helicopters being provided as Excess Defense Articles (grant EDA notification is being submitted separately), 29 T700-GE-401C engines (24 installed and 5 spares), inspections, spare and repairs parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $282 million.
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for economic and military progress in North Africa.
This proposed sale would enhance the modernization of the Tunisian Air Force’s overwater search and rescue capability and enable continued interoperability with U.S. Armed Forces and other coalition partners in the region. The proposed sale would further improve Tunisia’s overall ability to perform humanitarian missions, search and rescue, medical evacuations, fire-fighting, and to maintain the integrity of its borders. Tunisia will have no difficulty absorbing the helicopters into its armed forces.
The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The prime contractor for the engines will be General Electric in Lynn, Massachusetts. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale. Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of two contractor representatives to Tunisia for familiarization training, for two years. U.S. Government and contractor representatives will also be required to participate in program management and program and technical reviews, training, and maintenance support for one week intervals, semi-annually for three years.
There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale. This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.