The presence of ISIS in Libya isn’t limiting their influence on just that country alone, spilling into the neighboring countries like Tunisia. The organization is using the Tunisian desert, particularly the Tataouine region featured in Star Wars, as a direct line for fighters and smugglers to enter the Libyan border.
Two arms caches have also been found in the region this month, one of which included rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, thought to have been removed from a Libyan armory in the aftermath of Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster in 2011.
Driving near the border, it’s quickly obvious why the Tunisian government is so anxious about Libya’s implosion and the emergence there of an ISIS affiliate whose tentacles stretch half-way across the country. This open space is vast and sparsely populated. Smugglers’ tracks criss-cross the endless scrub and steep, arid hills that run along the border. Gasoline, drugs and other contraband have long been smuggled across the frontier.
If you can remember back to the vistas and locales from the first Star Wars film, you can get a good picture of what this area is like. No, there aren’t droids walking around through the endless wastes, tiptoeing past the remains of beasts and battling Jawas, but there is plenty of space to operate. That makes the job for the Tunisian government that much harder:
The Tunisians are doing what they can, he said. There is now a 1.8-mile no-go zone inside the border, and the military has built fortified positions every couple of miles. The security presence has been boosted seven- to ten-fold, but even so there weren’t enough men or equipment. The border, after all, is 380 miles long.
A much wider buffer zone — 12 miles deep — has also been created, which people can only enter with permission. This has not gone down well with local herders whose goats and sheep live off the desert scrub.
Other measures taken by the Tunisian authorities, according to the official in Remada, include a ban on men aged 18-35 from going to Libya unless they have residence papers and proof of employment there. Another source said the ban applied to men under 30.
Even so the two gunmen who stormed into the Bardo Museum last week — both of them in their twenties — had been able to cross illicitly into Libya in December, according to Tunisian State Security Minister Rafik Chelly. Chelly told a Tunisian network that the pair had received weapons training in the ISIS stronghold of Derna.
The immediate impact has been on the tourism business in Tunisia, with many foreign workers and tourists seeking an escape from the violence and foregoing their expedition to the home of Luke Skywalker. It’s a silly idea, but sometimes it’s enough to get people interested in the bigger picture of an area.
We obviously won’t see the lasting effects of ISIS for years to come. I don’t think there at the level where random people in Middle America should take to Twitter and shout about their fear of the organization, but it’s clear they are a threat to the people in the region they occupy.