EU plan against migrant smugglers in Libya could include ground forces

Officials in Brussels have long stressed that a 'boots on the ground' approach to the crisis is unlikely. The document in question however suggests that this action may be needed and remains a possibility.

Photo: MOAS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
Photo: MOAS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

A EU plan to thwart migrant smugglers operating out of Libya involves action on shore. 

The 19-page document, acquired by the Guardian newspaper, outlines an air and naval campaign in the Mediterranean and in Libyan territorial waters, pending the UN Security Council's appoval.

Officials in Brussels have long stressed that a 'boots on the ground' approach to the crisis is unlikely. The document in question however suggests that this action may be needed and remains a possibility.

“A presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities,” says the paper. The document is expected to receive the endorsement of EU foreign ministers when they meet next Monday, ahead of an EU heads of government summit  in June.

“The operation would require a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities. These could include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.”

The document speaks of possible operations to destroy traffickers’ assets “ashore”. This could include “action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor of smugglers assets and vessels before their use”.

Subject to the UN's blessing, the military operations would need to focus on actions “inside Libya’s internal and territorial waters and the coast”, the document says, while adding that seizing and destroying vessels on the high seas or in international waters in the Mediterranean would also be mandated.

The planning document admits that the campaign could result in innocent people being killed: “Boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life.”

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