NATO announces Sea Guardian mission to protect Libyan coast along with EU’s Sophia
NATO warships and, potentially, drones are to help the EU control migrant flows across the Mediterranean in what critics have called the “militarisation of a humanitarian crisis”.
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg unveiled the new project, to be called operation Sea Guardian, on the last day of a summit in Warsaw on Saturday (9 July).
“We have decided to transform operation Active Endeavour into a broader security mission called Sea Guardian”, he said.
“We intend to work closely with the European Union’s operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean, building on our swift and effective cooperation with the EU to cut lines of international human trafficking in the Aegean”, he said.
Speaking more broadly about the terrorist threat to Europe and the migration crisis, he added: “The scale of the task requires that we undertake joint efforts”.
Active Endeavour is an old NATO mission that was launched after 9/11 to protect shipping in the Straits of Gibraltar from terrorist attacks.
Sophia is an EU naval mission, launched last year, designed to stem the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy.
Stoltenberg’s mention of the Aegean refers to NATO’s decision, in February, to send seven warships to help stop migrant boats going from Turkey to Greece.
NATO officials said it was too early to publish details on when Sea Guardian would start work, what kind of assets it would have, and what it would do.
But according to NATO literature, Active Endeavour was composed of Greek, Italian, Spanish and Turkish warships as well as Danish, German and Norwegian patrol boats.
The Western alliance, outside the summit venue in Warsaw, put on display one of the five Global Hawk drones that it bought from US firm Northrop Grumman and that are designed to start operations at the Sigonella air base in Italy in 2017.
They fly at high altitudes for up to 30 hours, covering areas larger than 100,000 square km, and give almost real-time images.
A NATO source told EUobserver they would “very likely” play a role in Sea Guardian.
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