Italy ups military presence in Libya and Niger


Italy’s parliament approved an increased military presence in Libya and the deployment of up to 470 troops in Niger to combat migration and trafficking of people to Europe, many of whom wash up on Italian shores.

At the end of last year, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said he would redeploy troops to North Africa from Iraq and Afghanistan, requiring parliament to reopen to give its consent, despite having already closed ahead of the March 4 national election.

Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, which is in opposition, backed the resolution, while the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement refused support, saying the measure would prevent whoever wins the election from setting foreign policy priorities.

In the resolution on foreign missions for this year, Italy plans to spend 1.5 billion euros (£1.33 billion) on 31 missions in 21 countries. Only a portion of funding was approved in the budget and additional money will have to be set aside by the end of September.

The focus on Africa comes as Italy seeks to stop migrants reaching its shores. The mostly African immigrants first cross the Sahel states to reach Libya, where they set off in boats for Italy. More than 600,000 have come in the past four years.

The Niger mission was announced on December 28 as Italy joined France and the United States, which already have troops there, in efforts to help President Mahamadou Issoufou better control Niger’s territory and borders.

Gentiloni said the mission would “guarantee stability in the area and fight illegal trafficking of migrants”.

Some 400 soldiers are expected to work in Libya, up from about 370, and, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Italy will send 60 troops to Tunisia to improve border control and fight terrorism.

The number of troops in Afghanistan will be halved to about 750, while about 200 soldiers will be withdrawn from Iraq.