US defense chief visits North Africa, World War II cemetery

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Tunisia’s president Wednesday, kicking off a North African tour amid growing regional concern about lawlessness in Libya.

Esper is expected to travel to Algeria on Thursday and Morocco on Friday, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.

Esper met with Tunisian President Kaïs Saied and Tunisian Defense Minister Brahim Bartagi. He then visited the American military cemetery in Carthage to pay respects to the more than 6,500 U.S. soldiers who were killed or disappeared in the region during World War II, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Tunis and Washington maintain close military cooperation, notably in training Tunisian forces and securing Tunisia’s southern border with Libya. The U.S. and Germany have helped establish an electronic surveillance system to prevent infiltration across the border.

Tunisia saw two bloody attacks in 2015 that killed dozens of foreign tourists perpetrated by Tunisians who had received weapons training from extremists in Libya. Tunisia is considered an ally in U.S. efforts against terrorism in the region.