Commentary. Italy is escalating its involvement in Libya by sending troops in small doses.

A military mission in humanitarian camouflage

“We also went to Amatrice for a humanitarian mission.” This was the ineffable justification the Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti delivered Tuesday to the foreign and defense committees, for sending 300 people to Libya: 100 paratroopers, 135 logistic support specialists and 65 doctors, as well as a fully loaded, armed aircraft carrier in the neighborhood. Only the F-35 fighters were missing.

These forces have been sent into a situation full of lit fuses: terrorism, an internal conflict, the separatist rebellion led by General Haftar and the geopolitical confrontation among the Western powers.

Pinotti’s comment, which compares sending soldiers to Libya to sending support to the victims of the recent earthquake in central Italy, only adds to the list of questionable statements by the minister.

A year and a half ago, Pinotti had announced the assignment of 5,000 Italian troops to Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, then fortunately Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepped in.

Then, the Pinotti declared in an interview to the daily Il Messaggero: “Italy is ready to lead in Libya a coalition of neighboring countries, from Europe and North Africa. … If we sent up to 5,000 men to Afghanistan, our mission in a country like Libya, which is much closer to us geographically and politically and where the risk of deterioration is much more alarming for Italy, can be more meaningful and challenging, and significantly larger.”

For now, the Minister is satisfied with 300 soldiers. In March 2014, a year before her Libya remark, Pinotti spoke about the F-35 fighter jets in an interview by the current president of RAI, the national radio and TV network. “As a matter of fact, fighter jets are needed because if you have troops on the ground, you need to provide them with air defense,” she said. “But it could be that someone decides to start shooting. … Now unfortunately weapons are deadly.” Apart from the deadly speech, a perfect scenario for Libya.

History books are filled with examples of military interventions disguised as humanitarian missions. Three hundred soldiers are still a small number, it is true. But at the beginning, the Americans sent small teams to Vietnam, and we all know how that turned out.

The risk is that with minimal repeated applications, the Italian presence will grow and increase its role and size in the area. We are already engaged with special “undercover” teams of armed forces, implemented with one of the last Foreign Service decrees, which keeps parliament in the dark on all military operations that the government considers top secret.

The situation in Libya is very well suited to an escalation: The country is divided in two, the central government has been de-legitimized, terrorism still reigns in many areas of the country and the geopolitical clash between the Western countries and NATO for control of oil fields distorts the picture further. Of course this mission is humanitarian!

This was the tag attached to the war in Kosovo. Now we are faced with a different scenario, but it follows the same logic. The 300 troops can grow exponentially and the hypocritical humanitarian mission can turn into a war.

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