US warships may join EU in patrolling waters off Libya

American warships may join European Union vessels off the coast of Libya by the summer in a Nato-led attempt to slow the flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, it emerged at a meeting of the G5 world leaders in Hanover.

Until now, the EU, through Operation Sophia, has been entirely responsible for policing the international waters off Libya and Nato has been patrolling the much narrower Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

Officials at the G5 meeting said it was now being proposed that the EU and Nato work together off Libya sharing intelligence and assets to close down the smugglers’ networks. EU leaders, especially Italian ministers, are deeply concerned by a potential surge in the number of refugees reaching Europe from Africa, even though there has not yet been a spike in the figures this year.

The wider Libya mission is likely to be approved by alliance leaders at a Warsaw summit on 7 July, according to the Italian defence minister, Roberta Pinotti.

“At the Nato level, we have asked for Operation Active Endeavour to be recalibrated from an anti-terrorist operation in the eastern Mediterranean to one which oversees the Libyan coast,” said Pinotti.

Asked if she expected a green light at the Warsaw summit, Pinotti said: “Yes, certainly for the coordination of missions in the Mediterranean. At this summit, the proposal should become an effective decision.”

Operation Sophia, stretchingfrom [sic]the territorial waters of Greece, south of Crete, to the Egyptian coast, is limited to gathering intelligence on smugglers’ networks and helping vessels in distress. The expansion of Nato’s role would be a further sign of US president Barack Obama’s recognition that the migration crisis is destabilising European politics and, as a result, US interests.

More than 350,000 migrants from all over the world have reached Italy on boats from Libya since the start of 2014.

Full article: US warships may join EU in patrolling waters off Libya (The Guardian)

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