Tunis: At least 14 Tunisian troops were killed when gunmen attacked checkpoints in the remote Chaambi
mountains, the deadliest militant strike on the North African country's armed forces.
Since April, thousands of Tunisian soldiers have been deployed to the Chaambi range bordering Algeria in an operation to flush out al Qaeda-linked militants seeking refuge there, some since fleeing French intervention in Mali last year.
During the attack on Wednesday night, militants with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles ambushed checkpoints the military had set up to try to control the Chaambi region.
The gunmen attacked as the soldiers were breaking their fast for the evening during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Defence Ministry said. More than 20 soldiers were wounded.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda's North Africa branch, has claimed attacks in Tunisia in the past, but another militant group, Ansar al Sharia, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington, has also been blamed.
The mountain range is tough terrain with access into Algeria. Tunisian forces conducted several raids there and have bombarded caves after eight soldiers were captured and killed last year.
Last year a Tunisian man who had travelled to fight in Syria returned to carry out a suicide attack on a beach resort near the capital, killing only himself, but shocking a country that relies heavily on foreign tourism for revenue.
Tunisian officials also worry about arms and fighters spilling over from neighbouring Libya, where the weak government is unable to impose order on brigades of former rebels and militias still fighting since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.