The plans of the European Union to launch a military action to target migrant smugglers in North Africa might include land operations in Libya. A strategy paper obtained by the British newspaper Guardian reveals that although the focus of the action should be on naval and air campaign both in the Mediterranean and in the Libyan territorial waters, ground operations are also discussed. Naval, air or land operations are, however, all subject to the United Nations approval.
The possibility of land operations is gaining prominence as naval and air campaigns might not be enough to destroy smuggler’s facilities and assets, such as vessels and fuel dumps. The paper reveals that “a presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities” but “the operation would require a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities.” The paper also outlines the strategies to be used, which includes “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.”
The content of the paper thus apparently contradicts with the official position of the EU of “no boots on the ground” in Libya, which was reiterated by EU’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, on Wednesday (13 May). “We are not planning in any possible way a military intervention in Libya,” she repeated and added that the upcoming Monday meeting (18 May) should decide on the command and control of the proposed missions as well as on the headquarters. Brussels is generally rather optimistic about getting a quick ‘green light’ from the UN Security Council, which is needed to use the military force against smugglers.
The EU position still holds that the mission should not take place in the Libyan airspace or territorial waters but the latest document contradicts this and is clear to add that ground forces might be inevitable. The strategic paper, which does not rule out this option, moreover hints that land operations could focus on “action along the coast, in harbor or at anchor [against] smugglers’ assets and vessels before their use”.