European plans for a military campaign to smash the migrant trafficking networks operating out of Libya include options for ground forces on Libyan territory.
The document , a 19-page strategy paper for the mission , obtained by the Guardian, 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”.
The campaign’s aim is defined as “to disrupt the business model of the smugglers, achieved by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, seize/capture, and destroy vessels and assets before they are used by smugglers … The operation will need to be phased in and will be heavily dependent on intelligence.
“The mission is therefore defined to be ‘to provide surveillance, intelligence gathering and sharing, and assessment of smuggling activity towards and through the southern central Mediterranean area, and to stop, board, search and dispose of, possibly through their destruction, trafficking vessels and assets before use and thereby contribute to EU efforts to disrupt the business model of trafficking networks.”
The document speaks of possible operations to destroy traffickers’ assets “ashore”.
“A presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities,” says the paper which has to be endorsed by European Union foreign ministers before the mission is ordered by heads of government at an EU summit in June.
Subject to a UN go-ahead, 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.”
“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.”
Senior diplomats and officials in Brussels, speaking privately about the military planning, have consistently stressed that there would be no prospect of “boots on the ground” in Libya. But it is clear from the detailed planning document that they might be needed and are not being ruled out.
Libyan militias, jihadi groups, and Islamic State affiliates believed to be in cahoots with the trafficking networks are said to have heavy artillery and anti-aircraft batteries deployed close to the coast. The Guardian adds that attacks on EU vessels and aircraft could trigger an escalation and force Nato to get involved, said policymakers in Brussels.
Following a visit to Beijing last week, Mogherini believes the Chinese will not block the mission at the security council, the guardian reported. Her staff are also confident that Russia can be persuaded against wielding its security council veto despite the intense animosity between Moscow and the west over the Ukraine conflict.