ROME — Italy has used a new law to send special forces to fight the Islamic State group in Libya without informing Parliament, according to Italian reports.
A few dozen Italian special forces soldiers are currently taking part in operations to flush ISIS fighters out of the Libyan city of Sirte, media reports on Thursday claimed.
ISIS fighters based in the city, including many Tunisians and veterans of fighting in Syria, have controlled a long stretch of Libyan coast for months. But their grip on the city has weakened following US air raids in support of ground forces made up of militias loyal to a unity government backed by the United Nations.
Italy has already given the US permission to launch strikes from the Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, which is home to US aircraft.
Libya has collapsed into lawlessness in the last two years following a split in the government, which saw rival administrations set up in Tripoli and Tobruk.
The UN-backed government has won support from Tripoli but not from politicians in Tobruk, who are in turn supported by neighboring Egypt.
Italian special forces from the country's Army, Navy and Air Force have reportedly joined British special forces helping militias from the city of Misrata retake Sirte from ISIS.
In the wake of last year's terror attacks in Paris, the Italian government passed a law allowing for special forces to be deployed in anti-terror operations outside Italy under the control of Italy's secret services, rather than under military control.
That switch in the command structure meant the operations did not not require a parliamentary signoff, as would be the case with military operations.
"We do not have a military mission in Libya. If we did, Parliament would have been informed," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Thursday.
Asked if that also applied to secret service activity, Gentiloni said: "By definition, I do not comment on operations of a classified nature."
Reports on Thursday of boots on the ground in Libya drew criticism from opposition parties in Italy, where support for an armed intervention in Libya is limited.
One report suggested the Italians were not engaged in combat with ISIS, but were helping anti-ISIS militias defuse the mines and booby traps left by ISIS as it retreated.
The Italian military has built up experience clearing mines thanks to the fact so many mines around the world are Italian-made.
Italian firm Valsella Meccanotecnica exported mines around the world in the 1980s before Italy introduced a moratorium on anti-personnel mine production in 1994 and a law banning their sale in 1997.
Stocks were retained by the Italian military to allow it to train on mine clearance.
The anarchy in Libya has allowed human traffickers to dispatch hundreds of thousands of African migrants from Libyan beaches in dinghies into the Mediterranean — headed for Italy.
With 100,000 arriving in Italy so far this year, and with France and Switzerland blocking their borders with Italy to stop migrants heading for northern Europe, a buildup of migrant numbers in Italy is underway.
This week, as authorities in the Italian city of Milan gave temporary shelter to 3,300 migrants, Italy's Ministry of Defence gave initial permission for the use of a disused Army barracks in the city as a dormitory.