EU migrant crisis: WikiLeaked docs outline naval op, reputation risk management

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

WikiLeaks has published two classified documents revealing details of a EU plan for military intervention to curb the influx of migrants from Libya, and an information strategy to “facilitate expectation management” and avert reputation risks.

The European Union
foreign ministers agreed to form a naval mission in the
Mediterranean Sea targeting gangs smuggling refugees from Libya
to Europe on May 18.

One of the classified documents published by WikiLeaks on Monday
reveals details of the planned year-long military operation
against human traffickers. The 11-page document, drafted by the EU defense chiefs,
outlines plans to destroy vessels along the Libyan coast as well
as target transport networks and infrastructure within Libya’s

The second, 6-page EU Politico-Military Group advice paper on the military intervention lists
recommendations on tackling human trafficking networks in the
Mediterranean and outlines propaganda initiatives to sell the
military option to the public.

The EU military chiefs’ advice centers on the notion of drawing a
“full range of surveillance” and other intelligence data
from EU member states and making “systematic efforts to
identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by

In this context, the European Union Military Committee (EUMC)
highlights the need to create an information exchange and the
“coordination of the use of military assets” between
partners supported by Brussels (inter alia EEAS [European
External Action Service] Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity –

EU agrees to Mediterranean naval mission to stop migration flow
amid controversy

With regards to the use of force, the EUMC highlighted the need
to layout Rules of Engagement, especially when it comes to the
“seizure of vessels in a non-compliant situation, for the
neutralization of smugglers’ vessels and assets, for specific
situations such as hostage rescue and for the temporary detention
of those posing a threat to the force or suspected of

The plan also envisions
possible engagement with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)
fighters “within the Libyan sovereign area.”

“The threat to the force should be acknowledged, especially
during activities such as boarding and when operating on land or
in proximity to an unsecured coastline, or during interaction
with non-seaworthy vessels. The potential presence of hostile
forces, extremists or terrorists such as Da’esh [ISIS] should
also be taken into consideration,”
the document highlights.

The authors of the leaked document admit that the operation
should be backed by a clear information strategy that would
“avoid suggesting that the focus is to rescue migrants at sea
but emphasize that the aim of the operation is to disrupt the
migrants smuggling business model.”

While the plan lists Libya and North African regional neighbors
among the areas to be targeted by the information campaign, it
also acknowledges the risks of negative international publicity
“should loss of life be attributed, correctly or incorrectly,
to action or inaction by the EU force.”

Consequently, PMG stressed the need for a public messaging
campaign to “avoid misperception on the operation’s mandate
and to manage expectations.”

READ MORE: Libya against EU migrant plan, ‘won’t
accept any boots on the ground’ – country’s UN envoy

To protect individual operation commanders from being held
“personally responsible for an action executed under their
command” as well as to avoid damaging “EU reputation,” the
document noted the need to have “clear legal frameworks and
protocols in place prior to Operation launch, ideally with a
UNSCR under Chapter VII and a complementary invitation by a
legitimate LBY government.”

At the same time the authors acknowledge that “the political End
State [of the military intervention] is not clearly defined” and
recommend that the European Commission issue further guidance.
The document emphasizes the need to avoid destabilizing the
political process or causing “collateral damage” in
Libya that might result in disrupting “legitimate economic

While the classified material acknowledges the main goal of the
operation is fighting traffickers, and not preventing the loss of
human life, the EU Politico-Military Group advice (PMG) paper
recognized that search and rescue, “while not part of the
core mandate of the operation”,
should be administered
according to international law.

At the same time, the 6-page document notes that a visible EU
naval force along the coast of North Africa could have a
“counterproductive effect” in preventing human
smuggling, noting that the “smugglers’ business model will
invariably adapt.”

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