In a surprise decision, naval forces affiliated with European Union military were told to increase patrols in the south-central Mediterranean Sea and prepare for combat against large human-trafficking gangs operating out of Libya.
EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg officially approved the force of five warships, two submarines, three recon planes, three helicopters and two drones to monitor and interdict smugglers as well as assist with rescues at sea.
“The targets are not the migrants, the targets are those that are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini explained to the media in a presser on Monday.
Military mission in Libya requires UN Security Council approval
Any move to actually combat against the human traffickers creating the Mediterranean migration crisis requires both approval by the United Nations Security Council and the emergence of a stable unity government in balkanized Libya.
EU governments are still arguing about what to do with the tens of thousands of refugees who have recently reached European shores after fleeing tragic situations in Africa and the Meditterannean. The governmenmts of the majority of countries are fighting the proposed national quotas for sheltering this growing tide of refugees.
Of note, 12 nations have agreed to particiapte in the military mission, which is headquartered in Rome is commanded by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino. The Italian aircraft carrier Cavour will serve as the sea-based command vessel as well as a hospital ship for injured or ill refugees.
According to knowledgeablesources, the intelligence-gathering phase of the new mission will begin in a few weeks and reach full strength in late July. Thed mission will involve more than 1000 EU military personnel and will track smuggling networks as a part of planning for future combat missions.
Migrant crisis in the Mediterranean
The turmoil in Libya, Syria and elsewhere in northern Africa has sent the number of migrants fleeing to Europe to levels not seen in two decades, with more than 185,000 refugees gaining asylum in the EU last year.
The UN estimates that at least 60,000 migrants have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far his year, most landing in Southern Europe, but close to 2000 who tried the dangerous journey died in their attempt. The desperate migrants are forced to make deals with traffickers, and typically first have to travel over land to Turkey or into extremely dangerous Libya, dodging war zones and government checkpoints with little food or water.
The ones who make it that far are jammed into old, leaky boats that try to cross the Mediterranean. Distress calls are often sent out just hours after the boats set off, and the passengers must then hope that EU rescue vessels will mange to get there in time before their boats capsize and they drown.
The European Commission has made a controversial proposal that member nations take in a certain number of migrants in a quota scheme, but the European Union administrative arm is suggesting moving ahead with undertaking search-and-destroy operations to get rid of empty smuggling boats.