US speeds military aid to North African trouble spots; Rebel attack on Tunisia sparks US, French action
Washington — Both the United States and France have responded rapidly to the possibility of further serious attacks on Tunisia by Libyan- trained rebels. The United States is sending additional military aid to north African nation. And France has dispatched warships to that area of the Mediterranean.
Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba's appeal of emergency aid following a major guerrilla assault on the southwest Tunisian mining town of Gafsa Jan. 27 was "well founded," US intelligence reports say.
New attacks, including amphibious landings at Tunisian coastal cities, were believed to be under preparation.
In a show of force, France diverted to Tunisia's coast three surface warships and two submarines that were en route from the French naval base at Toulon to scheduled western Mediterranean naval exercises off the island of Crete.
The United States has agreed to Tunisian requests for a new shipment of six Bell Huey helicopters and a number of M-113 armored personnel carriers for the 28,000-man Tunisian armed forces, defense officials here said.
The appeal for American help was transmitted by the visiting Tunisian Army chief of staff, Gen. Boubaker Balma. Tunisian Ambassador Ali Hedda was notified of US agreement Jan. 30.
American analysts concur with European reports that a band of up to 200 well- armed attackers, possibly including Tunisians trained in Libya, was repelled from Gafsa with difficulty, after they had entered from nearby Algerian territory.