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German cabinet agrees plan to extend navy role in EU campaign in Mediterranean

The German cabinet has approved a plan to extend Germany's participation in an EU operation against people smugglers. The new campaign is aimed at stemming the flood of illegal weapons into Libya.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet will expand the role of the German navy in the Mediterranean Sea to include efforts to stop arms headed to "Islamic State" militants in Libya. The mandate also covers work to help Libya build up a coastal patrol and navy.

The plan - expected to get parliamentary approval in the coming weeks - will see the German military expand its personnel deployment from 400 to 950 over the next 12 months.

Germany has so far contributed logistics ship to the EU mission, and German soldiers have helped rescue about 15,000 people at sea since May 2015, according to the German military.

The government has set aside a total of 45.3 million euros ($51.2 million) for its participation in the mission.

A helicopter is seen during the rescue operation of a capsized boat at Sicilian Strait, between Libya and Italy, in the Mediterranean on May 25, 2016.

A helicopter helps rescue a capsized boat at the Sicilian Strait, between Libya and Italy

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany had an interest in creating "more order" along the border to Europe. "And it's important that the character of the mandate is being expanded to focus more on the root causes of the refugee streams," she said.

Enhancing 'Sophia'

The decision comes after the European Union gave its naval force authority to search suspicious vessels as part of its "Operation Sophia" mission, which is also seeking to break up gangs smuggling migrants to Europe.

Sophia was set up by the EU in 2015 to patrol international waters off Libya and arrest suspected migrant smugglers.

Libya is subject to an arms embargo, although the United Nations has said that weapons are being passed through countries including Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates illegally.

Watch video 05:03

EU's naval mission "Operation Sophia"

jbh/bk (dpa, Reuters)

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