Tunisian Armed Forces

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Tunisian Armed Forces seal
القوات المسلحة التونسية
Armoiries Forces armées tunisiennes.svg
Founded 24 June 1956
Service branches شعار أركان جيش البر، تونس.svg Army
25px Navy
File:أركان جيش الطيران، تونس.svg Air Force
Headquarters Tunis
Commander-in-Chief President Béji Caïd Essebsi
Minister of National Defense Farhat Horchani
Active personnel 45,000 - 60,000
Deployed personnel Unknown number in UN Missions
Percent of GDP 1.6%
Foreign suppliers  United States
Related articles
History Bizerte Crisis
Yom Kippur War
Battle of Wazzin

The Tunisian Armed Forces (Arabic: القوات المسلحة التونسية‎‎) consist of the Tunisian Army, Navy, and Air Force.

As of 2012, Tunisia had an army of 40,500 personnel equipped with 84 main battle tanks and 48 light tanks. The navy numbered 4,800 operating 25 patrol boats and 6 other crafts. The Air Force had 4,000 personnel, 27 combat aircraft and 43 helicopters.[1] Paramilitary forces consisted of a 12,000-member national guard.[2] Tunisia participates in United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the DROC (MONUSCO) and Côte d'Ivoire.[3] Previous United Nations peacekeeping deployments for the Tunisian armed forces have included Cambodia (UNTAC), Namibia (UNTAG), Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia/Eritrea (UNMEE), and the 1960s mission in the Congo, ONUC.

The former minister of defence was Rachid Sabbagh.[4]


Tunisian artillery and gunners, circa 1900

The modern Tunisian Army had its origins in the time of the French Protectorate (1881–1956). During this period, Tunisians were recruited in significant numbers into the French Army, serving as tirailleurs (infantry) and spahis (cavalry). These units saw active service in Europe during both World Wars, as well as in Indo-China prior to 1954. The only exclusively Tunisian military force permitted under French rule was the Beylical Guard.[5]

Following independence

On June 30, 1956, the Tunisian army was officially founded by decree,[6] in the form of a combined-arms regiment. The necessary equipment was made available to the young state from French stocks.[7] The new army initially comprised 25 Tunisian officers, 250 NCOs and 1,250 men transferred from French Army service, plus 850 former members of the Beylical Guard.[5] Approximately 4,000 Tunisian soldiers continued in French Army service until 1958, when the majority transferred to the Tunisian Army, which reached a strength of over 6,000 that year.

Intakes of conscripts for military service, made mandatory in January 1957, plus the recall of reservists allowed the army to grow to twelve battalions numbering 20,000 men by 1961.[7] Sixty per cent of those troops were deployed for border monitoring and defense duties.

Tunisian units first saw action in 1958 after French intrusions into the south in pursuit of National Liberation Army (Algeria) fighters. In 1960 Tunisian troops served with the United National Peacekeeping Force in the Congo. In 1961 clashes occurred with French forces based at Bizerte. More than 600 men fell in battle against the French forces. The French evacuated the base after subsequent negotiations with the Tunisian Government.

The Tunisian Navy, founded in 1958, received its first ship in the fall of 1959. The Air Force acquired its first combat aircraft in 1960 . While the Tunisian armed forces obtain equipment from several sources, the United States remains the largest single supplier.[7] Officer and specialist training for Tunisian personnel was formerly undertaken in French and American military academies. Tunisian trainees are now gradually being assigned to newly established military schools within the country.

The January 10, 1957, a law prohibits any military officer to be a member of a group or a political party.[7] However, after 7 November 1987 when the former Prime Minister, General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali took power senior officers such as Abdelhamid Escheikh and Mustapha Bouaziz took up ministerial appointments.

On April 30, 2002, at around 18.15, the direction of the Army - Brigadier General Abdelaziz Skik who led the Tunisian contingent to Cambodia, two colonels - majors, three colonels, four majors, two lieutenants and a sergeant-major - disappeared in a helicopter crash near the town of Medjez el-Bab.[8]

Tunisia has contributed military forces to United Nations peacekeeping missions, including an army company to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the Rwandan Genocide. In his book Shake Hands with the Devil, Canadian force commander Roméo Dallaire gave the Tunisian soldiers high credit for their skills and effort in the conflict and referred to them as his "ace in the hole".

During the 2011 Libyan civil war, Tunisian forces, mostly border guards, saw some limited action when fighting between Libyan rebels and loyalist soldiers spilled over the border.[9]

The military and politics

The Library of Congress Country Study says:

His exclusive power to promote military officers has been among the strongest components of Bourguiba's control over the armed forces. From independence, high-ranking officers—general staff and senior commanders in particular—have been carefully selected for their party loyalty more than for their professional experience and competence. This began in the late 1950s when the president dismissed those officers who had trained in the Middle East and who might therefore have been expected to sympathize with the militant Pan-Arab policies of Egypt's Nasser. The hand-picked senior officers, in turn, carefully screened all officers who were considered for positions of authority in line units to ensure that antiregime elements did not pose potential threats at any level of the military establishment.

As a result of these promotion policies, the Tunisian officer corps took on a very homogeneous character that only began to break down in the 1970s. Senior officers have been generally representative of Tunisia's economically and politically dominant families from the north, the coastal areas, and the major cities. Although military men have been kept from operating major business ventures or holding political office while in uniform, it has been common for family members to be prominent in business or in the Destourian political movement. Generally Western and Francophile in outlook, tied by kinship to the country's upper socioeconomic stratum, and personally familiar with leading figures in the PSD, high-ranking Tunisian officers must be classed as part of the national elite.

General Staff

In accordance with Article 44 of the constitution, the supreme commander of the armed forces is the President of the Republic of Tunisia.

In December 2010, the staff is composed as follows: Chief of Staff of the Army corps is the General Rashid Ammar, one of the Air Force is Brigadier General Taieb Lajimi and that the navy is Rear Admiral Mohamed Khamassi. In April 2011, Ammar became chief of staff inter-armed.

The Inspector General of the armed forces is Rear Admiral Tarek Faouzi Larbi, the Director of Military Engineering is Brigadier General Mohammed Hedi Abdelkafi and the director of military security Brigadier General Ahmed Chabir.

Tunisian Army

The Tunisian Army is 27,000 strong and is composed essentially of:[10]

  • three mechanised brigades baséd at Kairouan (1st), Gabès (2nd) and Béja (3rd). Each is composed of:
    • one armoured régiment (M60 Patton tanks)
    • two regiments of mechanised infantry (M113 armoured personnel carriers) (11th-17th Mechanised Infantry Regiments have been reported)
    • one artillery regiment (M198 howitzer)
    • one reconnaissance company (AML 90)
  • one Saharan territorial group at Borj el-Khadra and Remada, consisting of two light infantry regiments
  • one special forces group (Groupe des Forces Spéciales)
  • one military police régiment

Army Ranks

Général de corps d'armée Général de division Général de brigade Colonel-major Colonel Lieutenant-colonel Commandant Capitaine Lieutenant Sous-lieutenant
English: Army Corps General English: Divisional General English: Brigadier General English: Colonel Major English: Colonel English: Lieutenant-Colonel English: Major English: Captain English: First Lieutenant English: Second Lieutenant
Arabic: فريق أول‎‎ Arabic: فريق‎‎ Arabic: أمير لواء‎‎ Arabic: عميد‎‎ Arabic: عقيد‎‎ Arabic: مقدم‎‎ Arabic: رائد‎‎ Arabic: نقيب‎‎ Arabic: ملازم أول‎‎ Arabic: ملازم‎‎
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Grade Terre tunisienne O9.png
Grade Terre tunisienne O8.png
Grade Terre tunisienne O7.png
Grade Terre tunisienne O6.png
Grade Terre tunisienne O5.png
Grade Terre tunisienne O4.png
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Grade Terre tunisienne O1.png
NCO & Enlisted
Adjudant-major Adjudant-chef Adjudant Sergent-chef Sergent Caporal-chef Caporal Soldat de première classe Soldat de deuxième classe
English: Sergeant Major English: Master Sergeant English: Sergeant First class English: staff Sergeant English: Sergeant English: Master Corporal English: Corporal English: Private First Class English: Private
Arabic: وكيل أعلى ‎‎ Arabic: وكيل أول‎‎ Arabic: وكيل‎‎ Arabic: عريف أول‎‎ Arabic: عريف‎‎ Arabic: رقيب أول‎‎ Arabic: رقيب‎‎ Arabic: جندي أول‎‎ Arabic: جندي‎‎
Grade Marine tunisienne E8.png
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Grade Marine tunisienne E3.png
Grade Marine tunisienne E2.png
Grade Marine tunisienne E1.png
Grade Marine tunisienne E0.png

[11] with editing the source

Enlisted personnel

  • Privet
  • Privet 1st Class
  • Corporal
  • Master Corporal

Non-Commissioned Officers

  • Sergeant
  • staff Sergeant
  • Sergeant 1st class
  • Master Sergeant
  • Sergeant Major


  • Second-lieutenant
  • Lieutenant
  • Captain
  • Major
  • Lieutenant Colonel
  • Colonel
  • Colonel-Major
  • Brigadier General
  • Major General
  • General Of The Army

Air Force equipment

Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani (right), Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Brigadier General Mahmoud Ben M'hamed, Tunisian Air Force Chief of Staff, at the Carthage Airport in Tunis, Tunisia, May 4, 2007.

The Tunisian Air Force is equipped with 10 Northrop F-5E Tiger II and two Northrop F-5F Tiger II. These form 15 Squadron at Bizerte-Sidi Ahmed Air Base. It also includes 12 Aero L-59T, as well as three Aermacchi MB-326K (combat capable) as well as 4 MB-326B, and 3 MB326L.[3] Previously up to 8 Aermacchi MB-326B, 7-16 Aermacchi MB-326KT, and 4 Aermacchi MB-326LT were in service.

The IISS Military Balance 2013 lists six Lockheed C-130B Hercules, one Lockheed C-130H Hercules, five G-222s, three Let L-410UVP Turbolet (all assigned to one transport squadron) plus a liaison unit with two S-208A.[3] Other reported transport aircraft include one Boeing 737-700/BBJ, two Dassault Falcon 20, and two Lockheed C-130J-30 Super Hercules.

Reported attack helicopters include four Hughes MD 500 Defenders, and 7-8 SNIAS SA-342 Gazelle.[12]

Reported training/COIN and liaison aircraft include 12 SIAI Marchetti SF.260WC Warriors and 9 SIAI-Marchetti SF-260C, as well as 4 SIAI-Marchetti S.208A/M and one Reims F406.

Apart from Bizerte Sidi-Ahmed, there are military airfields reported at Bizerte (La-Kharouba), Gabes, Gafsa, and Sfax.

Naval attack/search and rescue helicopters

Medium transport helicopters

Light transport helicopters

  • 2 SNIAS AS-355 Ecureuil-II
  • 12 SNIAS AS-350B Ecureuil
  • 8 SNIAS AS-316B Alouette-III
  • 7 SNIAS AS-313 Alouette-II


  • AIM-9J Sidewinder AAMs
  • AGM-65A Maverick AGMs
  • Raytheon BGM-71C Improved-Tow (for MD-500 Defender Helicopters)
  • MBDA HOT for SA-342 Helicopters

Navy equipment

Giscon (510), a fast attack craft of the Tunisian Navy, photographed the 21st of October 2008

Established in 1959, the Marine nationale tunisienne (Tunisian National Navy) initially received French assistance, including advisory personnel and several small patrol vessels.[13] On 22 October 1973, the U.S. Edsall-class destroyer escort USS Thomas J. Gary (DE-326) was decommissioned in ceremonies at the Quai d'Honneur, Bizerte. Moments later, the ship was commissioned by the Tunisian Navy as the President Bourgiba.[14] In the mid-1980s the force included President Bourguiba, two United States-built coastal minesweepers, and a variety of fast-attack and patrol craft. The most important additions to the fleet in the 1980s were three La Combattante III class fast attack craft armed with Exocet surface-to-surface missiles. Apart from these vessels, however, most of the fleet's units were old and capable of little more than coastal patrol duties.

During the 1960s and 1970s the navy was primarily involved in combating the smuggling of contraband, the illegal entry of un- desirable aliens, and unauthorized emigration as well as other coastal security activities.[13] In these matters the overall effort was shared with agencies of the Ministry of Interior, especially the customs agents and immigration personnel of the Surete Nationale.

President Bourgiba suffered a major fire on 16 April 1992 and later left operational service.

Today the Tunisian Navy reportedly has bases at Bizerte, Kelibia, La Goulette, and Sfax.[15] Formerly reported in service were six Kondor-II class minsweepers of 635 tons, equipped with 3x2x25mm Guns. However none were listed in service by the IISS Military Balance 2013. Also formerly in use were MBDA MM-40 Exocet and Nord SS-12M surface-to-surface missiles.

Fast attack craft and gunboats include:

  • 3 La Combattante III class fast attack craft La Galite class in Tunisian service (with 8xMM-40 SSMs, 1x76mm Gun, 2x40mm Guns, 4x30mm Guns)[3]
  • 6 Type-143 Lurssen Albatros class (2x76mm Gun,Mine Laying Capability)
  • 3 P-48 Bizerte class with 4x37mm Guns. Eight SS-12M SSMs were removed as obsolete.
  • 3-5 Modified Hazhui\Shanghai-II class (128 ft,30 knots, 4x37mm Guns, 4x25mm Guns)

Patrol boats

  • 1 Ch.Navals De Lestrel 31.5m class (104 ft,30 knots,2x20mm Guns)
  • 3 Ch.Navals De Lestrel 25m (83 ft,23 knots,1x20mm)
  • 5 Bremse class (22.6m,2x14.5mm HMGs)[16]
  • 4 Gabes class(12.9m,2x12.7mm HMGs)
  • 4 Rodman-38 class(11.6m)
  • 2 Vosper Thornycroft 103 ft class (27 knota,2x20mm Guns)
  • 6 20meter long PCs
  • 1 Istiklal (Independence ) 26.5meter Long PC source + Picture

Landing craft and auxiliary vessels include one LCT-3 class LCT, one Robert Conard class 63.7m Survey vessel (NHO Salammbo), one Wilkes class (T-AGS-33) survey ship (NRF Khaireddine), two El Jem class training ships (ex A 5378 Aragosta and A 5381 Polipo delivered by Italian Navy on 17 July 2002), one Simeto class Tanker ( Ain Zaghouin - ex A 5375 delivered by Italian Navy on 10.7.2003) and one White Sumac 40.5m class.


Weapons of mass destruction

No known nuclear activity. Signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

No known chemical weapons activity. Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

No known biological weapons activity. Party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).


  1. Tunisia - Armed forces
  2. The Military Balance 2008, Routledge ISBN 978-1-857-43461-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Military Balance 2013, p.406
  4. http://www.leconomistemaghrebin.com/2013/03/09/qui-est-m-rachid-sabbagh-le-nouveau-ministre-de-la-defense/
  5. 5.0 5.1 page 710 "World Armies, John Keegan, ISBN 0-333-17236-1
  6. "Décret du 30 join 1956 instituant l'armée tunisienne" (PDF). Journal official tunisien (in French) (52): 884. 29–30 June 1956. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 (French) [Ridha Kefi http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN13076leshaemrale0 , "The army 's new clothes ", Jeune Afrique, July 13, 1999]
  8. (French)Abdelaziz Barrouhi , "The army in mourning, "Jeune Afrique", May 13, 2002
  9. Amara, Tarek (2011-04-29). "Pro-Gaddafi forces clash with Tunisian military". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-12-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Institute for National Security Studies. "Tunisia". Archive.wikiwix.com. Retrieved 2013-12-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. http://www.uniforminsignia.org/index.php/component/insigniasearch/?result=62
  12. "La Tunisie renforce sa flotte aérienne". Mosaique Fm. Retrieved 2013-12-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Library of Congress Country Study, Tunisia, 300-301, via http://www.marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/Tunisia%20Study_3.pdf
  14. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Thomas J. Gary
  15. Cordesman, Anthony; Nergiuzian, Aram (2009). The North African Military Balance: Force Developments in the Maghreb. CSIS. p. 82.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Dienstschiffe Typ GSB 23
  17. https://www.fbo.gov/?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=08275b3c98c0debff796785a43d9cf62&tab=core&_cview=0

Further reading

  • Fernanda Faria and Alvaro Vasconcelos, “Security in Northern Africa: Ambiguity and Reality,” Chaillot Paper Series, no. 25 (September 1996),
  • Lutterbeck, 'Arab Uprisings and Armed Forces,' Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces
  • “Civil-Military Relations in North Africa,” Middle East Policy, 14, 4 (2007).

External links