A European naval force report reveals the documented “excessive use of force” and series of violations in operating modes at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard.
“The Libyan Coast Guard has shown that it follows the operational guidelines for which it was trained, but not completely.” This is in addition to the frequent refusals to provide their European funders with information and reports on interventions at sea.
The Eunavfor document is catalogued as “restricted”. It provides a clear picture of the situation at sea, recognizing that there is no single “Coast Guard”, but several different security bodies. It noted that in a number of cases Italy has even coordinated the interception of migrants by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). It recounts the blackmail and corruption in Libya, including missing equipment and funds.
Since 2015, the European Union has spent €455 million euros through the Trust Fund for Africa. The 37-page report is compiled by the Rear Admiral of the Italian Navy Stefano Turchetto, Head of the surveillance mission for the arms embargo (Operation IRINI), and includes the contributions of other operational officers.
The officers write that their task should also have been to provide “a more coherent assessment” of the abilities achieved by the Libyan forces equipped and trained, above all by Italy.
In October, there were four episodes where Eunavformed requested more information. “Despite the continuous contact between the military leaders on the two shores of the Mediterranean, which is aimed at strengthening the exchange of information, it was not possible to receive the name of the assets (the ships used) involved in these four events “.
The observation of an episode on 15 September during a migrant rescue operation, “indicates that the training received is still visible, but is no longer fully followed”. In particular, “the excessive use of physical force by the Libyan Coast Guard against migrants, for example, can be seen as a consequence – it says – of the political stalemate”. It noted that Libyan forces have often used tactics, “never observed before, and not in accordance with training”.
The patrol boat mentioned in the 15 September incident, is believed to be under the command of Major Abdel-Rahman Al-Milad (Bidja). After the rescue operation, the forces transmitted a report accompanied by some images: “analyzing the photos provided in their mission report – it is evident that during this activity, TTPS (Techniques and Tactical Procedures) that were never observed before and not compliant with the training provided by Operation Sophia, as well as by international regulations were used.”
In the same days, Bidja became the Commander of the rebuilt military academy of the Libyan Navy. He reportedly personally takes care of the training of the academy’s recruits.
The number of people intercepted by the two main bodies, the Libyan Coast Guard and GACS, (the latter being a sort of maritime police under the direct control of the Libyan Ministry of the Interior) “represents 34% of all migrants who left Libya (17,612) from August to November 2021 “.
This means that despite the considerable number of patrol boats, and fast launches available to Tripoli, two-thirds of all departures escape control. Of the 26 patrol vessels surveyed by Eunavfor only 10 have been observed in action, and among these six are in operation. The operational status, as of 21 November of the remaining vehicles was “unknown”. Another 15 are also in an “unknown” state, and one patrol boat was found to be “inefficient” and located in Malta.
The European Commission and the EU External Action Service declined to comment. Spokesman, Peter Stano confirmed in a statement that the EU is “determined to train Coast Guard personnel, and strengthen Libya’s ability to manage a large search and rescue area in the Mediterranean.”
The Associated Press also asked Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency for an explanation regarding the case of “excessive use of physical force” on 15 September. It responded by explaining that they had submitted a “serious accident report” at the time, but could not disclose details.
Proof that Tripoli’s violations of the agreements are known, and tolerated in Brussels. Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked countries involved to, “review the policies in support of the interception at sea, and the return of refugees and migrants to Libya”. Stano added that, “when it comes to migration, our goal is to save people’s lives, protect the needy, and fight human trafficking and migrant smuggling.”