— The Erimtan Angle —

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On the WikiLeaks website the following announcement can be read: “Today, [Wednesday, ] 17 February 2016, WikiLeaks is releasing the classified report about the first six month of Operation SOPHIA, the EU military intervention against ‘refugee boats’ in Libya and the Mediterranean”.[i] And next, explaining that “[t]he report, dated 29 January 2016, is written by the Operation Commander, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino of the Italian Navy, for the European Union Military Committee and the Political and Security Committee of the EU. It gives refugee flow statistics and outlines the performed and planned operation phases (1, 2A, 2B and 3), the corresponding activities of the joint EU forces operating in the Mediterranean and the future strategies for the operation. One of the main elements within the report is the planned, but still pending transition from Phase 2A (operating in High Seas) to Phase 2B (operating in Libyan Territorial Waters) due to the volatile government situation in Libya, where the building of a ‘Government of National Accord’ (GNA) is still under way. The report presses the responsible EU bodies to help speed up the process of forming a ‘reliable’ government in Libya that in return is expected to ‘invite’ EU forces to operate within their Territorial Waters (Phase 2B) and later even give permission to extend the EU military operations onshore (phase 3). In the last month there have been half a dozen high level meetings between EU and US officials (including with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome) as it is claimed by the US military that up to 5,000 Islamic State fighters have taken control over parts of the Libyan coast. Serious pressure has been placed on Libya’s major power groupings to speed up the completion of the GNA and ‘invite’ Western forces. A GNA invitation was expected in January. Libyan press has reported that US, UK and French special forces have already arrived (there is no public admission by the Western countries). Within Europe, Italy and the UK have been the driving forces behind the military intervention”.[2]

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In the report, Admiral Credendino declares that “[i]rregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea is continuing at a significant rate, with over 929,000 migrants arriving in Europe this year. However, since September [2015] we have seen two significant changes in the flow. Firstly there has been a reduction in the proportion of migrants using the central Mediterranean route as opposed to the eastern route. Prior to the start of the operation there was an even split between the people using the central route and the eastern route, whereas now 16% migrants use the central route, with almost 83% of migrants using the eastern route. Secondly, since September, for the first time in 3 years, we have seen a 9% reduction in the migrant flow using the central route. This is an encouraging decrease in the flow and should continue to be driven down through EUNAVFOR MED’s continued efforts. In October [2015], we successfully transitioned to phase 2A (High Seas), therefore for the first time having an effect on the smuggler and traffickers’ business model. For the autumn surge I had 16 assets (ships and air assets) under my command which were used to successfully provide a higher degree of deterrence against the smuggler and traffickers’ activities in international waters. Since the start of the operation, our actions have contributed to the arrest of 46 suspected smugglers and the disposal of 67 boats. Due to the effectiveness of phase 2A (High Seas), smugglers can no longer operate with impunity in international waters. They have to stay within Libyan Territorial Waters, as they otherwise would be apprehended by EUNAVFOR Med operation SOPHIA assets. My outreach activities have successfully contributed to an improved understanding and acceptance of the operation within the International Community. Since the start of the mission, I have met with very senior representatives from 6 different countries, 9 different EU organisations, 14 different international organisations, including the United Nations, the International Organisation for Migration, the ICRC and both the African Union and Arab League. During this reporting period I have consolidated my relationships with key interlocutors and I have seen a demonstrable improvement in their view of the operation. Moving forward, from a military perspective, I am ready to move to phase 2B in Libyan Territorial Waters, but there are a number of political and legal challenges that must be addressed before I can recommend such a transition. These include the legal finish in terms of our powers to apprehend suspected smugglers in Territorial Waters and who will prosecute any suspected smugglers detained there. We will also need to cooperate with and deconflict our activities with those of any other international missions that might operate within Libya once a Government of National Accord has been established. Critical to our exit strategy is a capable and well-resourced Libyan Coastguard who can protect their own borders and therefore prevent irregular migration taking place from their shores. Indeed, through the capability and capacity building of the Libyan Navy and Coastguard we will be able to give the Libyan authorities something in exchange for their cooperation in tackling the irregular migration issue. This collaboration could represent one of the elements of the EU comprehensive approach to help secure their invitation to operate inside their territory during Phase 2 activities. Moreover, training together during phase 2 could also be a key enabler to build confidence and facilitate the conduct of Phase 3 operations jointly with the Libyan authorities. Also, to avoid coordination problems within the AOO and prevent the risk of incidents, it is highly desirable that one single mission should be assigned the training task of the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard. In my view, EUNAVFOR MED could have an important role to play in this domain. This would of course, should the Member States agree to it, imply an amendment to the OPLAN. In conclusion, while still much needs to be done to disrupt the smugglers’ business model, EUNAVFOR MED has nonetheless achieved significant results in its first 6 months of its life. In this respect the main message to the International Community is that the EU is capable of launching a military operation in record time, displaying a strong resolve and remarkable unity of intent, as demonstrated by the 22 Member States participating in the operation “.[3]

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Rather than offering a lasting solution to the current migrant crisis, the EU’s reaction called Operation Sophia primarily appears to be an exercise in containment, aimed at the ruthless individuals and gangs who have built up a viable “business model” to exploit desperate people fleeing either war and/or economic deprivation and ruin. The EU is now apparently cooperating closely with the U.S. in order to stem the flow yet unwilling to put a stop to the basically imperialist military and economic policies at the very root of the problem.

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In fact, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union constituted by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg released a press statement last year, which explained the rationale behind the whole operation: “[t]he EU naval operation against human smugglers in the Mediterranean will be able to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas, in line with international law. The Political and Security Committee also agreed that EU NAVFOR Med should be renamed “Sophia” after the name given to the baby born on the ship of the operation which rescued her mother on 22 August 2015 off the coast of Libya. The new name of the operation will be formally adopted by the Council at the earliest opportunity. The decision by the Political and Security Committee to launch the first step of phase 2 of the operation follows an assessment by the Council on 14 September that the conditions to move to this stage have been met. The Operation Commander Rear Admiral Credendino has judged the transition possible as member states provided the assets needed for this more active phase in the force generation conference of 16 September 2015 . . . The operation is aimed at disrupting the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean and to prevent the further loss of life at sea. It is part of a wider EU comprehensive approach to migration, tackling both the symptoms and root causes such as conflict, poverty, climate change and persecution”.[4]

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[1] “EUNAVFOR MED – Operation SOPHIA” – Six Monthly Report: June, 22nd to December, 31st 2015″ WikiLeaks (17 Feb 2016). https://wikileaks.org/eu-military-refugees/.

[2] EUNAVFOR MED – Operation SOPHIA” – Six Monthly Report: June, 22nd to December, 31st 2015″.

[3] “Executive Summary. EUNAVFOR MED – Operation SOPHIA Six Monthly Report: June, 22nd to December, 31st 2015” WikiLeaks release: (17 Feb 2016), pp. 3-4. https://wikileaks.org/eu-military-refugees/EEAS/EEAS-2016-126.pdf.

[4] “EUNAVFOR Med – EU agrees to start the active phase of the operation against human smugglers and to rename it ‘Operation Sophia'” Presidency of the Council of the European Union (28 September 2015). http://www.eu2015lu.eu/en/actualites/communiques/2015/09/29-eunavfor-med/index.html..

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