EU launches Operation Irini to enforce Libya arms embargo


The European Union is stepping up its efforts to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya through the launch of a new CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) military operation in the Mediterranean.

The European Union (EU) Council on 31 March adopted a decision launching Operation EU Navfor Med Irini.

“Diplomacy cannot succeed unless it is backed by action. This operation will be essential and a clear contribution to promoting peace in our immediate neighbourhood through a permanent ceasefire,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and President of the Council.

Irini, (Greek for peace), will have as its core task the implementation of the UN arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. In particular the mission will be able to carry out inspections of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected to be carrying arms or related material to and from Libya in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2292 (2016).

As secondary tasks, EU Navfor Med Irini will also monitor and gather information on illicit exports from Libya of petroleum, crude oil and refined petroleum products;
contribute to the capacity building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy in law enforcement tasks at sea;
and contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by aircraft.

Irini will be led by Rear Admiral Fabio Agostini as EU Operation Commander, and its headquarters will be located in Rome, Italy.

The mandate of Operation Irini will initially last until 31 March 2021.

In parallel with the launch of Operation Irini, the existing EU Navfor Med operation in the Mediterranean, Sophia, will permanently cease its activities, the EU said. Sophia was launched on 22 June 2015 as part of the EU’s approach to migration, and was to cease permanently on 31 March.

A number of countries have violated the arms embargo on Libya and in January, the United Nations said numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country providing the parties with advanced weapons, armoured vehicles, advisers and fighters.

“The mission condemns these ongoing violations, which risk plunging the country into a renewed and intensified round of fighting,” the U.N mission to Libya (UNSMIL) said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt support eastern forces of Khalifa Haftar which have been trying to take Tripoli. The internationally recognized administration based in Tripoli trying to fend off Haftar’s forces is backed by Turkey.

UN experts accuse Jordan and the United Arab Emirates of supplying military material to Haftar’s forces, which they said then prompted Libya’s Government of National Accord to ask Turkey for help. Haftar is also backed by Egypt and more recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.