Analysis. Tracking Italian troop deployments abroad, meant to strengthen the NATO missions. Over 1,000 soldiers are heading to Ukraine, and Libyan ‘Coast Guard’ training will end.

Italian soldiers deployed along the borders of Ukraine

Italian soldiers will be defending Ukraine’s neighboring countries. Namely, 1,150 personnel will be used to reinforce the NATO contingents already present in Eastern Europe. This is what the international missions decree sets out, as a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the draft decree, which is under discussion these days in the Foreign and Defense Committees of the Chamber and Senate, there is also a change in the Italian commitment in Libya: the training of the Tripoli Coast Guard will end, to which, however, we will continue to provide technical assistance and spare parts for the patrol boats being used to stop migrants. It is a partial “disengagement” that does not satisfy those in the PD who would have liked to put an end to the mission in the North African country altogether.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has forced the Italian government to also review the missions of our soldiers abroad, providing for a greater commitment in terms of men, means and resources to NATO activities in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, but also in the Mediterranean. The new commitment, the decree explains, “represents a measure to give reassurance to the Allies, aimed at improving the ability to respond to possible external threats.”

Specifically, it is planned to deploy multinational Battlegroups in the four countries bordering Ukraine, which will be tasked to support the national armies in a variety of tasks: from “combat support,” including a medical facility, to assistance provided by “a team for the cyber protection of networks.” In all, 380 ground vehicles and five aircraft and helicopters are to be deployed, with funding calculated at 39,598,255 euros until December 31, 2022.

Another part is the one concerning Libya, which technically could be called a downgrading of the mission in the North African country. Italy will no longer train the Tripoli Coast Guard as it has been doing until now, but will limit itself to repairing and supplying spare parts to the (Italian) patrol boats that the Tripoli Navy uses to intercept migrants trying to reach Europe in the Mediterranean Sea, taking them back to detention centers. The decree says that the continuing mission is aimed to “support the Libyan authorities in charge of the control of the maritime borders, to make them progressively autonomous in the technical and operational management of the means with which they have been equipped.”

It was in the air that something in the relationship with Libya had to change. Last year, when it came to ending the debate on the decree, a large faction composed of parliamentarians from PD, M5S and LeU refused to vote for the line item concerning the training of the Libyan Coast Guard, demanding a change in course. The solution found was an amendment tabled by the PD in which the government was asked to transfer the training of the Libyans to the European Union.

What the government would like to get passed today is actually a partial step backwards. Since 2020, the training of Libyan crews, on patrol boats provided by our country, has been entrusted to Turkey, which in this way also has actual control over the management of migrants in the North African country, from which the vast majority of those who arrive in our country depart. It’s a very sensitive topic, to the point that it might also have been addressed in the talks that Prime Minister Mario Draghi had a week ago in Ankara with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Compared to last year, when the planned expenditure for training Libyans was 10.5 million euros, 500,000 euros more than in 2020, this year there is a further increase in financial provisions, bringing the allocated amount to 11,848,004 euros.

The mission is part of the provisions of the 2017 Italy-Libya Memorandum, which for the maintenance of the naval assets in Tripoli provides for the deployment of a “Bigliani Class” Coast Guard vessel equipped with a video surveillance system for passive defense, four armored vehicles, “as well as consumables and spare parts for the maintenance of Libyan naval units,” involving 25 Italian military personnel. The mission is scheduled to last until December 31, 2022.

However, the decision to limit the Italian commitment to the maintenance of Libyan naval assets alone does not satisfy those who continue to criticize the much-too-close relationship with a country that still refuses to sign the Geneva Refugee Convention. “If it is acknowledged that the problem is the Libyan Coast Guard, which is violating the human rights of migrants, it is not clear why we are providing them with decisive operational support in the operations to repel those trying to reach Europe,” explained PD’s Erasmo Palazzotto. As was the case last year, it is almost a foregone conclusion that a separate vote will be called for on the line item regarding the mission in Libya. “I hope that the entire PD, consistent with what we have said in the past, will vote against it,” Palazzotto added.

Meanwhile, work in the committees continues, with the Defense Chief of Staff, UNHCR, IOM, and MSF all called to give answers. The Defense and Foreign Minister are expected to attend on July 21, while the text is expected to reach the floor for a final vote by the end of the month.

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