Italy Agrees to Let Drones Targeting IS Militants Depart from SicilyFebruary 24, 2016 in Italy
On Tuesday, 23 February, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi disclosed that Italy has agreed to allow armed US drones to take off from an air base in Sicily on a case-by-case basis for defensive missions against Islamic State (IS) militants in North Africa.
In an interview with RTL radio, Prime Minister Renzi disclosed that “if it is a matter of operations against terrorists, against potential Islamic State attackers, there is a close relationship between us and the other allies, above all the Americans.” The Italian prime minister, who has repeatedly stated that is country will not take part in military strikes in Libya without the express request of a recognized government, further disclosed that the defense mission would be authorized “case by case.” While Renzi has said that he prefers a diplomatic response to IS, which has faced US-led air strikes on the caliphate it has proclaimed across swathes of Syria and Iraq since 2014, on Tuesday he noted “but then, if we have proof that there are ‘kamikaze’ attackers preparing potential strikes, naturally Italy will do its part along with all the others.”
Late on Monday, an Italian defense ministry official disclosed that the agreement would effectively allow defensive missions and not offensive action, such as the attack on a suspected militant training camp in Sabratha, Libya that killed dozens last week. The ministry official further indicated that Italy will authorize departures from the Sigonella base near Catania only if each mission’s aim is to protect personnel, adding that so far no request had been made.
Sigonella, which is located in eastern Sicily, is home to a US Naval Air Station as well as a base for the Italian Air force. It is sometimes used for logistical support for American and other NATO forces. The Wall Street Journal has reported that US officials have been trying to persuade Italy to let them conduct such operations from the Sigonella air base for more than a year. It added that US officials are pushing for drones destined for offensive operations like the Sabratha strike to take off from Sicily, however Italian officials have baled at the step over fears of domestic opposition.
After expanding into Syria and Iraq, IS is now exploiting the ongoing chaos in Libya, where two rival government shave been vying for power since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. The militant group is trying to establish bases in the North African state in a bid to conduct raids both in Libya and in neighbouring Tunisia, which has already been affected by IS attacks. On 19 February, the US launched an attack on a base in Sabratha, near the Tunisian border, and targeted Nourredine Chouchane, a Tunisian militant linked to two raids in Tunisia that killed dozens, mostly tourists. The aircraft that carried out that attack took off from a base in Britain.