GABORONE, Botswana — The European Union says that it will within a the next few weeks it will launch military operations to seize and destroy the rickety boats used by human traffickers to smuggle people from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The EU's defense and security chief, Federica Mogherini, said military operations will form the second phase of its Mediterranean Sea operations, which were launched on June 22 , 2015 by the European Union Naval Operation Atlanta (EU-NAVFOR) to stop the illegal trafficking of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
The flood of refugees has overwhelmed Mediterranean coastal nations such as Italy, Hungary, Greece, Turkey and Balkan countries, which are closer to the two refugee source regions. Mogherini said in Luxembourg that the second phase follows the successful completion of the initial humanitarian rescue and intelligence-gathering stage.
It will see the deployment of more EU military assets including naval vessels, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles against human trafficking gangs with a mandate to take action on the high seas.
"EU-NAVFOR MED has fulfilled all the military operations of its phase I regarding the collection of intelligence and information. Thus today [Sept. 3] I proposed to the ministers to move to phase II: the capture and disposal of [moored trafficking] vessels and those that are escorting refugees.
"Based on the intelligence we previously gathered, we could have already gone after smugglers and traffickers on at least 16 occasions. Transitioning to phase II would allow us to do this in the high seas. Once that decision is taken — hopefully in the coming weeks — we could do this, and thus contribute to the arrest of the smugglers themselves," she said after a meeting of EU defense ministers in Luxembourg.
The move will empower EU naval commanders to chase down, capture and destroy the rickety vessels used to ferry refugees to Europe's southern shores. Mogherini said there was broad consensus among the defense ministers for the robust military action to stop Mediterranean people-smugglers. among the defense ministers of the bloc.
Mogherini said that once approved, the decision will be followed by a force-generation conference that will specifically ask member states to contribute troops and assets to the operation. war against people smugglers.
"Shifting to EUNAVFOR MED's second phase would require more assets and vessels. We would then go to a force-generation conference in the next few weeks, followed by a formal decision to launch the phase," she stated.
If successful, the second stage will be followed by a third phase which would allow the EU naval force in the Mediterranean to take military action against people smugglers inside Libyan territorial waters.
But this has raised a red flag among some in Libya. A However, the success of the mission has been cast into doubt after a section of the divided Libyan Air Force loyal to one of the two rival governments in Tripoli has said it will attack maintained its earlier stance that EU naval vessels that enter its territorial waters without prior agreement.
"Any vessel found in Libyan waters without previous cooperation or permission will be targeted by the Air Force," Libyan Air Force Chief Saqr Al-Jaroushi warned late last month.
Former Italian defense chief Gen. Vincenzo Camporini told the EU Observer that due to operational complications, the EU naval mission risks helping, instead of stopping, the smugglers in the end.
"In essence, it [the operation] is helping the smuggling operation because it provides people with more means to reach their desired objective, which is to land in Europe," he said.
He added that destroying boats and fuel depots on the Libyan coast also raises the risks of EU casualties as smugglers may use the migrants as human shields. Further, he warned that armed groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its North African and Middle Eastern affiliates will most likely attack the EU naval force.
Other European security analysts have also cited warned of the risk of failure citing the huge operational costs and said that despite deploying immense resources, the force will not be able to stop people smugglers will still land on the Mediterranean coasts of Southern Europe.
The EU operation will be focused on, but not limited to, smuggling routes off the coasts of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The EU mission was launched to stop the flow of thousands of refugees to Europe through people smugglers who use rickety, overloaded fishing boats for runs to Europe.
The EU, Australia and United Kingdom and the EU have also announced that they will grant political asylum to thousands of refugees who are already in Europe and in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.