ROME — As the European Union edges closer to mounting a military mission against human traffickers in Libya, and as impressive naval firepower arrives in the Mediterranean for the task, the rules of engagement appear to be getting increasingly vague.
“There is huge confusion over a possible mission, with conflicting positions being taken inside Europe,” said Nicola Pedde, the director of the Institute for Global Studies in Rome.
With the number of migrants and refugees from Africa and Syria crossing from Libya to Italy this year topping 40,000, European governments have agreed to put a halt to the traffickers who make millions of dollars packing migrants into old fishing boats and dinghies for the crossing.
The traffickers have squeezed so many migrants into the lower decks of fishing boats that many have died from suffocation and inhaling fuel fumes, while boats often sink, with about 5,000 drowning in the last year and a half.
Last month, European leaders held an emergency summit after one boat capsized and sank, drowning around 750 migrants on board. In addition to beefing up an existing search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean, leaders backed military intervention against the traffickers, who are suspected of having links with armed militias, including ISIS, now running fiefdoms in lawless Libya.