The armed men drove right into the nighttime ambush. The militants, led by a veteran jihadist blamed for a bloody attack on Westerners just 10 days earlier, were winding their way along a narrow desert road in central Tunisia.

When the elite Tunisian forces hidden in the surrounding hills opened fire, their tracers lit up the night sky, and some of the militants tried to flee. All nine suspects, including the senior militant, Khaled Chaib, were killed. An informant in the truck at the time of the ambush was wounded in the shoulder.

The March 2015 operation was a badly needed victory for Tunisia’s fragile democracy, whose leaders were struggling to deliver on the promise of the 2011 revolution. Prime Minister Habib Essid called the ambush by Tunisian National Guard forces the crowning success of a growing counterterrorism capability. One newspaper headline proclaimed: “The country has been saved from catastrophe.”

But what Tunisian leaders did not reveal was the pivotal role that U.S. Special Operations forces had taken in helping to design and stage the operation.

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Image courtesy of Reuters

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