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UK to send troops to help guard Libya-Tunisia border

UK defence minister says troops will stop IS from entering Tunisia, but denies UK pilots are taking part in other country's air force missions
Tunisian soldiers stand in front of a trench dug along the Libyan border near the Ras Jedir crossing point (AFP)

Britain will deploy troops to Tunisia to help stop Islamic State fighters and other militants from crossing into the country from neighbouring Libya, Defence Minister Michael Fallon told parliament on Monday.

"A training team of some 20 troops from the 4th Infantry Brigade is now moving to Tunisia to help counter illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of the Tunisian authorities," he said.

Fallon's announcement comes as Western governments, though wary of a large-scale military intervention, are concerned enough about the potential for IS in Libya to use the country as a launchpad for attacks to take some action, despite the failure of efforts so far to form a national unity government.

Western politicians had said that they must be invited by a Libyan unity government before formally intervening, but recent weeks have seen US fighter jets strike an IS base near Tripoli, killing 40 fighters and two Serbian embassy staff who had been kidnapped by IS.

French, British and US jets are also reportedly now flying reconnaisance missions to prepare to help Libyan forces fight the group.

Last month, after opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn questioned whether UK drones were already operating in Libya, Fallon was asked whether he would guarantee that MPs would have a chance to debate the decision to use them outside of Syria and Iraq. Fallon replied simply, "No".

In his comments on Monday, Fallon said that Britain should not have a "combat role" in Libya, but would be ready to provide military advice and training for the Libyan government if asked to do so and only with the prior consent of British MPs. 

He denied that British pilots embedded with other air forces had taken part in missions over the country.

Libya has had rival parliaments and governments since 2014, after an Islamist-led militia alliance overran Tripoli and forced the internationally recognised administration to flee to the remote east of the oil-rich nation. 

Militants including the Islamic State [IS] group have exploited the chaos, seizing the coastal city of Sirte last June and attacking nearby oil facilities.

In recent days, forces loyal to the government in Tobruk have managed to drive IS and other militants out of many neighbourhoods of Libya's second city of Benghazi after two years of trying.