Italy makes US drone deal for Libya attacks

Italy makes US drone deal for Libya attacks

Sabratha’s ancient theatre, near the target of last week’s US airstrikes. Source: Wikimedia

Italy is to allow armed US drones to use an American base in Sicily to launch attacks against the Islamic State in Libya and other north African targets.

The agreement follows a year of negotiations between Rome and Washington amid fears that Isis is gaining ground in Libya. The Italian defence ministry confirmed the news.

The deal does not allow the US to use its Sicilian base without restrictions. The US will have to gain permission from Rome each time it wants to launch an armed drone and under the deal missions are restricted to defensive strikes to protect Nato forces engaged in anti-Isis missions. The drones are based at the Sigonella naval air station in Sicily, which is shared with Nato and the Italian air base.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi ruled out direct participation for his armed forces in Libya. “We’ll see” what happens if a unity government is not formed, Renzi told the media, in reference to the lack of a coherent government in what is fast becoming a failed state. Sources say Rome rejected a request by the US to use the base for “offensive operations”, such as the ones conducted last week against an alleged training camp near the town of Sabratha in western Libya that targeted Isis militants.

The Italians apparently feared domestic opposition to offensive strikes against Libya, particularly if Italian leaders would be held accountable for civilian deaths. US and British special forces have been deployed in Libya and US, British and French aircraft are conducting increasing numbers of reconnaissance missions.

Gunmen, believed to have been trained in Libya, carried out two significant strikes in neighbouring Tunisia last year with one on the beach resort of Sousse and another on a Tunis museum. Libya has two warring governments with an Islamist-dominated administration in Tripoli and the elected government in Tobruk.

Last week’s airstrikes were the third by the US in Libya since June. Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said the operation used British bases. He said: “I welcome this strike that has taken out a Daesh [Isis] training camp being used to train terrorists to carry out attacks. I was satisfied that its destruction makes us all safer, and I personally authorised the US use of our bases.”

Washington announced that the attack by the F-15 fighter-bombers, which apparently killed dozens, could have killed the leader who planned last year’s Tunisian attacks. Two Serb embassy staff who had been held hostage since November reportedly died in the attacks. They were taken captive when their diplomatic envoy came under fire near Sabratha.

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