The Chief of Staff of the Tunisian armed forces, Rachid Ammar, announced yesterday on Tunisian television that he submitted a retirement request to the president on Saturday. President Moncef Marzouki accepted the request.
“I decided to leave the service because of the age limit,” he said during an interview on the Ettisaa Mesaa (9 pm) program on the Ettounsiya television station. He is 67 years old, according to AFP.
“I have gotten older and exceeded the retirement age,” he added. “I did not resign, because resignation is an escape from hardships. I just want to leave the service to spend more time with my family.”
Ammar also asserted that he had been offered the post of president after the revolution.
“On January 15, 2011, I was called to become the president, but I refused for the sake of my country,” he said.
Journalist Safi Said suggested on radio station Shems FM that Ammar’s departure from the military could be the beginning of a political career.
During the January 2011 revolution, some online sources asserted that Ammar refused to follow the orders of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to shoot protesters, but that he refused to do so. While this story has not been confirmed, it played a significant role in the way the how the public viewed the military after the revolution. Ammar’s reported actions were seen as preserving the neutrality of the army during the protests.
During the same interview, Ammar said that groups of militants that were hiding on Chaambi Mountain have left the area. He also declared that Tunisia and the military forces are facing a “trinity” composed of organized crime, smuggling, and insurgency.
“It is not terrorism, but an operation of insurgency in order to overthrow the political regime,” he said. “The army did not find these groups because of problems and weaknesses in the work of the intelligence.”
“It is also difficult to detect landmines, because in one kilometer there are four million possibilities to find an explosive, which is something impossible,” he added.
Beginning in late April, Tunisian security forces conducted operations on the mountain against militants alleged to have ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Members of the Tunisian security forces have been injured, some severely, in several incidents involving landmines planted on the mountain. On June 2, one soldier was killed by friendly fire during operations on the mountain. On June 6, a landmine explosion near the mountain killed two soldiers.