In line with previous reporting by The Guardian and other news outlets, Wikileaks just released a classified EU plan for a military operation against people smuggling networks and infrastructure in the Mediterranean, including the destruction of docked boats and operations within Libya’s territorial boundaries.
The first document, which Wikileaks signals as “important”, sets out the EU’s Ministers of Defense intent to deploy military force against civilian infrastructure in Libya to stop refugee flows coming to Europe, and it asks for a robust mission to further this goal. The second document confirms this response as an essential part of a broader, comprehensive EU approach to the current crisis in the Southern Central Mediterranean to “disrupt trafficking networks”. The document, which builds on a draft mission statement proposed by the EU’s external action service (EEAS), acknowledges that there is not yet a clear and sufficient understanding of the ‘business model’ used by migrants smuggling networks. Nor is there a robust legal framework to justify action in Libya (how would one acquire permission to violate Libyan national sovereignty for example? And which law applies to captured smugglers on Libyan territory?). Nonetheless EU Defense Ministers from over 10 states are increasingly pushing for immediate action, notwithstanding the “military challenging” environment the document outlines.
With these documents Wikileaks further confirms that Europe is searching a full-fledged militarization of migration control across the Mediterranean, including, as the Italian magazine Espresso now writes, an effective military mission in Libya. Contrary to previous denials, this means the way is slowly opened towards ground operations as well, as the Guardian was suggesting earlier. In the meantime, observers have been warning against the potential ‘collateral damage’ this operation might cause, mainly because of the potential presence of hostile forces like ISIS, who could also be explicitly engaged in hostage taking.
In these two classified documents, EU Defense Ministers are now explicitly asking for robust rules of engagement that bolster the use of force, particularly for the seizure of vessels, the neutralization of trafficking boats and the rescue of hostages. At the same time they ask for a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units to further these aims in collaboration with third states and international organizations and in partnership with the ongoing ‘humanitarian’ operations FRONTEX, TRITON and INDALO. In the meantime, however, smuggling networks have not remained passive and are already shifting travel routes to the Eastern Mediterranean in anticipation to the EU’s tactical measures. No condition is permanent…
Oh and here’s the EU’s press statement and communication to the Parliament: no mention of bombing vessels of course, only of a ‘security and defence operation’ in the margins of “towing and scrapping [en-of-their-lifetime] boats”.