EU Strategy Document Reveals Plan for Ground Forces as Answer to Migration Wave

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EU Strategy Document Reveals Plan for Ground Forces as Answer to Migration Wave

Controversial plan would involve air, naval, and possibly ground forces to attack smuggling networks in North Africa

A landing craft transports migrants back to HMS Bulwark after their rescue in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Jason Florio/AFP/Getty Images)

A strategy document being circulated among European Union foreign ministers and obtained by the Guardian newspaper reveals a military plan designed, in theory, to demolish the networks of human smugglers operating in the Mediterranean Sea could involve ground forces taking action inside Libya.

Earlier this week, Libyan officials rejected an EU proposal that would sanction an overt military response, including possible airstrikes and naval blockades, to a stream of immigrants attempting to flee poverty, joblessness, and war in the Middle East and Africa.  Thousands of people have lost their lives in recent years as they've relied on unaccountable networks of smugglers and over-crowded boats to cross from North Africa to the southern coasts of Europe.

According to the BBC:

The Libyan ambassador to the UN told the BBC that the EU's intentions were unclear and "very worrying".

The EU is seeking a UN mandate to allow military action to destroy or halt smugglers' boats in Libyan waters.

The measures are part of the EU's proposed plans to stop migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.

The UN estimates that 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean this year. More than 1,800 people are feared to have died making the journey in 2015 - a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.

As the Guardian reports Wednesday, "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."

The 19-page strategy document, according to the Guardian,

focuses on an air and naval campaign in the Mediterranean and in Libyan territorial waters, subject to United Nations blessing. But it adds that ground operations in Libya may also be needed to destroy the smugglers’ vessels and assets, such as fuel dumps.

“A presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities," says the paper which is expected to be endorsed by European Union foreign ministers on Monday before the mission is ordered by heads of government at an EU summit in June.

"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."

The document speaks of possible operations to destroy smugglers’ assets "ashore." This could include "action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor of smugglers assets and vessels before their use."

Currently, the EU's foreign and security policy coordinator Federica Mogherini is in New York as she tries to lobby members of the UN Security Council to approve the plans for military-style action.

Meanwhile, in Brussels on Wednesday, the European Commission presented its official "European Agenda on Migration" outlining the immediate measures it says will be taken "in order to respond to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean as well as the steps to be taken in the coming years to better manage migration in all its aspects."

In a statement, Mogherini  touted the EU plan. "With this bold agenda," she stated, "the European Union has proven itself ready to address the plight of those escaping from wars, persecution and poverty. Migration is a shared responsibility of all Member States and all member States are called now to contribute to tackling this historical challenge. And this is not only a European but a global challenge: with this agenda we confirm and broaden our cooperation with the countries of origin and transit in order to save lives, clamp down on smuggling networks and protect those in need. But we all know that a real, long term response will come only from fixing the root causes; from poverty to instability caused by wars, to the crises in Libya and Syria. As the European Union, we are engaged and determined to cooperate with the international community on this."

Critics, however, shared deep skepticism over the EU's approach to the problem so far. As columnist Kit O'Connell writes at Mint Press News:

Europe’s intention to use more military intervention in Libya seems especially questionable, given that the same countries now seeking U.N. approval to attack smugglers created the crisis in the first place. It was NATO intervention and arming of rebels that led to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the destabilization of Libya and other governments in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

For years, migrants seeking a better life in Europe have used the Mediterranean as a way to reach countries like Italy and Greece, but 2015 is set to become a record-breaking year for refugees, and, worse, refugee deaths at sea. Some 900 migrants drowned in a single incident last month, just one of many sinkings requiring Italian naval response in recent months.

Speaking on Democracy Now! this week, Magda Mughrabi, a researcher at Amnesty International who focuses on Libya and the migration issue, said the human rights group is very concerned about a military plan being offered as part of the solution to the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean.

Watch the interview:

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