Italy's parliament approved a bill on Wednesday to beef up the country's military mission in North Africa, as well as in the West African nation of Niger. The move was seen as a way to combat the trafficking of migrants through the Mediterranean to Italy, many thousands of whom have drowned in the crossing.
In December, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni first announced the new mission in Niger, which will see 470 Italian troops join the French and US soldiers already stationed there in an effort to help President Mahamadou Issoufou better fight insurgents and control the country's borders.
Gentiloni promised the mission would "guarantee stability in the area and fight illegal trafficking of migrants."
"This is a training mission in response to a request from Niger, not a combat mission," Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti clarified.
At the same time, some Italian soldiers stationed in Iraq will be redeployed to northern Africa, particularly Libya – the usual departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe by boat. More than 600,000 refugees fleeing conflict, famine and poverty have arrived on Italy's shores since 2014.
The measure was opposed by Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), saying it would force whichever party wins the country's upcoming general election to abide by a lame duck government's foreign policy plans.
The plan will also see the number of Italian soldiers in Afghanistan halved to about 750 and about 200 soldiers recalled from Iraq.
es/kms (AP, Reuters)