• Libyan man holds composite flag showing countries which helped topple Gaddafi (Photo: AslanMedia)

Investigation

EU 'civilian' mission training paramilitaries in Libya

18.11.13 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU's "civilian" border mission in Libya is in fact training paramilitary forces, amid a wider European and US effort to stop Libya becoming a "failed state."

According to an internal EU paper - a blueprint for the border mission, Eubam Libya, dated 18 April and seen by EUobserver - its "main effort" is to build up the "operational level" of Libya's "Border Guards (BG)" and "Naval Coast Guard (NCG)."

Both units are part of Libya's defence ministry.

The BG, a gendarmerie of some 9,000 men responsible for land borders, is, according to the EU paper, under the "direct command" of the Libyan army's "chief of staff." The NCG, 6,500 men who look after maritime borders, also reports straight to the top.

The EU document says Eubam will take BG and NCG "battalions" out of the field, train them in secure locations, and "redeploy" them into action.

Eubam's 111 personnel will be unarmed (albeit heavily guarded) and many of them will have civilian backgrounds in EU police and customs.

But the EU document notes that Eubam should also recruit people with "military expertise" to "provide specialist skills."

For its part, the EU embassy in Tripoli, which is to work hand-in-hand with Eubam, is already hosting security advisors from Belgium and Italy. One of them, Luigi Scollo, who was there until September, has the rank of general in the Italian army.

Eubam has earmarked €120,000 a year to buy classified satellite images.

The sensitive nature of its work is also highlighted by EU contacts with Libyan intelligence. "There is readiness from the current director [of Libya's intelligence services] to liaise with the future … mission," the EU document notes.

Eubam's job as outlined in the internal EU document sounds different to EU press releases, which underline its "civilian" nature and which say its main task is to "draft" a border control "strategy."

But a spokesman for the EU foreign service, Michael Mann, told EUobserver it is not doing anything out of the ordinary.

"The mission is supporting all border management related agencies and is providing advice and support on border management related issues, not on military tasks," he said.

He noted that Libya specifically "requested the support of a civilian mission, not a military one, regardless of their internal organisational arrangements."

He added that he cannot count up how many Eubam people will have military backgrounds "as not all the … staff has been recruited" yet.

Apart from training paramilitaries to stop EU-bound migrants on land and maritime borders, the EU is also trying to build up Libya's capacity to spot and stop migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU paper notes the Libyan navy is reactivating a "coastal radar capability" called VTMIS.

The EU itself has earmarked €4.5 million for "strengthening their [north African countries'] maritime border surveillance systems" under a so-called Seahorse project, with Libya already signed up.

In other efforts, the EU in December is launching Eurosur, a new IT system to co-ordinate maritime surveillance among 18 member states.

The Eubam document says Seahorse "implies the creation of a regional network between the relevant authorities of participating member states and north African countries that, once set up, will be linked to Eurosur."

But the EU is also playing down the Libya-Eurosur connection.

Contradicting the internal EU paper, Mann told this website: "Neither Libya nor any other third country can be linked to the Eurosur communication network, because the participation in this network is strictly limited to Schengen member states," referring to the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

He added that some Libya-Eurosur "co-operation" is possible, but only under "clear provisions on non-refoulement and personal data protection."

Wider effort

Eubam's part in protecting the Union's southern belly is just a fraction of what EU countries, the US and other allies are doing on the same front.

An Italian source noted that Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, still remains its "principal interlocutor and donor."

The Eubam paper shows that Italy set aside at least €250 million for Libya for 2012 and 2013, the vast majority of which is being spent on security projects by Italy's defence and interior ministries.

Projects include: training 60 Libyan BG officers at Italy's Centre of Excellence for Stability Police Units in Vicenza; teaching 65 Libyan infantrymen at Italy's Army Infantry School in Cesano; training 280 Libyan military police in Tripoli; and teaching another 150 civilian police in using anti-drug sniffer dogs and in forensic crime scene investigation.

It is also sending a naval boat to Libyan waters to stop "weapons smuggling," restoring seven Libyan naval vessels and donating 20 "VBL Puma" armoured vehicles.

France is training 75 bodyguards to protect Libyan VIPs, 30 Libyan airmen, 20 naval officers and 72 naval divers.

Germany is helping to stop nuclear fuel in Libya's Tadjoura research centre from getting into the wrong hands. It is also spending €600,000 on "disposal of chemical weapons" and €800,000 on securing Libya's stocks of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

The UK has inserted a "Defence Assistance Team" in the Libyan defence ministry and is developing a "joint operations unit." It has also placed a "strategic advisor" in the Libyan interior ministry.

Denmark, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain have smaller projects.

But the US and its allies in the region, including Jordan, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, are also working on a big scale.

A US state department official told EUobserver it will "provide training for 5,000-8,000 [Libyan military] personnel" in a scheme which is "currently in the development phase."

The Eubam paper adds the US has already launched a $20 million programme on "justice sector [reform], arms control and land border security," which involves "contracted personnel" from private security firms in Libya and US personnel in "neighbouring countries," such as Morocco.

Turkey has so far trained 804 Libyan police officers, while the UAE is teaching almost 250 military officers.

A Nato official told this website it is also creating a team of 10 or so military advisors who will be based in Brussels but who will "visit Libya for short periods" to "provide advice to the Libyan authorities on defence institution building."

The European Gendarmerie Force (Eurogendfor), a little known body also based in Vicenza, Italy, which co-ordinates the work of six EU countries' military police, is not involved in Libya for the time being.

But its spokesman, Armando Sisinni, noted that an "assessment is taking place with regard to possible future collaborations in [EU] Common Security and Defence Policy missions."

Official line

The EU's Mann said the various projects are being co-ordinated by the UN mission to Libya, Unsmil, which holds "regular meetings" with European and US staff.

The official line is that the EU and US initiatives serve EU security and aim to build a better future for Libyan people.

"Libya's principal international partners share a common goal, which is the success of the democratic transition and the sustainable stabilisation of the country in the interest not only of Libya but of the whole Mediterranean region," the Italian source noted.

The state department official said the US wants to "bring stability and rule of law necessary to ensuring the peaceful, democratic and prosperous future for which the Libyan people sacrificed so much."

But other interests are also at stake.

According to Libya's oil ministry, it is currently producing just 700,000 barrels a day, but could quickly get back to pre-war levels of 1.4 million barrels if things go well.

EU and US oil contracts aside, Libya has a lot of money to spend on hardware.

The Eubam document noted that in 2012 Libya spent just 40 percent of its national budget, mostly on wages for civil servants, due to administrative chaos.

If things get back to normal, Italy, for one, is poised to take advantage.

According to Giorgio Beretta, an analyst at the Italian arms-control NGO, the Rete Italiana per il Disarmo, Italy was delivering €100 million a year of weapons to Libya before the war broke out.

One Italian scheme, the "Land Scout" radar network, kills two birds with one stone.

Italy began installing the equipment, which tracks migrant movement on land, in 2010.

The Italian source told this website: "The execution of the border control project was de facto interrupted by the Libyan uprising, but the contract remains valid and the project could be implemented as soon as conditions on the ground will allow it."

On one hand, it will help the EU to stop unwanted migrants at a cost of €152 million to the Italian government.

But on the other hand, it will put the rest of the Land Scout price tag, some €148 million of Libyan oil cash, into the pockets of two Italian firms: Finmeccanica and GEM elettronica.

Asked by EUobserver if EU countries and the US are competing for influence in Libya, the EU's Mann said "Of course not."

But the Eubam document is less politically correct.

Noting that "the UK has advisors placed in key positions such as the ministry of defence and in Border Guards," it goes on to describe the British Defence Assistance Team as "a key enabler for high level influencing."

Violence on the increase

Violence in Tripoli over the weekend, in which a militia opened fire on unarmed protesters killing more than 40 people, drew strong words from EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who "deplore[d] the loss of life" and called for "those responsible … [to] be brought to justice."

It might also prompt EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (18 November) to consider putting Eubam on hold.

But it is unlikely to see Europe or the US back out for good.

"The EU cannot allow Libya to become a failed state," a Maltese diplomat told EUobserver last Thursday, the night before the Tripoli clashes.

"Libya’s transition is going through one of its most delicate phases. However, we stand ready to accompany and support the Libyan people," an Italian source added on Sunday.

Eubam is in any case running behind schedule.

The 18 April document said it was to have its own HQ and a "majority" of staff in place by the end of November.

But two weeks before the deadline, it has just 40 or so out of 111 people on the ground and still works out of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, with the EU's Mann saying the new HQ is now scheduled for "mid-March 2014."

Apart from armed clashes, the Eubam document notes that EU staff are at risk on a day-to-day basis from carjackings or kidnappings at fake checkpoints and from robberies by people with "easy access" to firearms.

The EU paper also sheds light on the monstrous size of Libya's problems.

It notes that the 2010 war "had a devastating effect on the security sector."

It says there are 240,000 "ex-fighters" in the country who took up arms against Libya's late dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and who expect to be "rewarded" by the new government.

But the government itself suffers from a "lack of decision making culture" and "widespread corruption," which sees "many public servants receive double or triple salaries without showing up at their workplace."

It is also being harassed by the Supreme Security Committee - a group of revolutionary leaders who want to make sure Gaddafi-era officials do not retain power - and who sometimes snatch government members for "temporary detention for interview" despite having no legal mandate.

The Eubam blueprint adds that just two (Egypt and Tunisia) out of Libya's 14 land border crossing points are currently under government control, while the rest are run by "militias or other tribal organisations."

In terms of Border Guard training, Eubam staff will be working with a force which is largely composed of four "katibas," or groups of irregular fighters, many of whom lack "basic" military skills, some of whom are illiterate and some of whom are criminals from the 26,000 people freed from jails in the uprising.

The BG has "organisational charts [which] do not always reflect the true situation" of who does what.

But it is responsible for guarding 6,000 kilometres of desert borders.

In the south, it operates in a zone where Toubou and Touraeg tribes - who help smuggle people, arms, drugs and counterfeit medicines to Europe - "do not fully recognise the central government [and] question the principle of borders" per se.

It also operates in a zone which contains "hardened fighters" pushed out of Mali by French soldiers and other "Islamic extremists," including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

On the maritime side, the Eubam document notes there are "80 sites [which] permit the launching of small craft typical of those used for the carriage of undocumented migrants."

But it says Libya's Coastal Police has just four patrol boats, one patrol plane and two marine helicopters, which "require maintenance."

EU image

The Eubam staff will be well rewarded for their work.

According to a separate Eubam budget document, the mission head, a former Finnish customs chief, Antti Hartikainen, is being paid about €250,000 a year.

A more rank-and-file Eubam officer gets €120,000 a year, as well as removal allowances and reimbursements for flights to visit family back home.

Eubam staff can take up to 92 days of holiday a year, in what the EU spokesman, Mann, described as "a horizontal rule for all [EU] civilian missions."

At the same time, the EU plans to spend €75,000 a year on PR, making TV and radio clips, printing leaflets and organising press conferences.

The "visibility" is badly needed in terms of building a positive image for EU intervention.

The Eubam blueprint from April notes that average Libyans are "still very grateful" for British and French help in toppling Gaddafi, but it adds that "a recent survey carried out by the EU demonstrates that less than 50 percent of Libyans know what the EU is."

Meanwhile, the PR spending stands in contrast to Eubam's investment in secure communications.

Given the sensitive nature of its work, the Eubam document says: "It must be assumed that there will be considerable interest in the activities of the HoM [head of mission] and his mission staff by regional [intelligence] agencies."

The Eubam HQ will handle information classified up to EU Secret.

But its staff will talk to each other using unsecured mobile phones, satellite phones and VHF radios.

The Eubam budget document originally earmarked €48,000 to buy eight "Sectra" encrypted phones for Eubam to talk to Ashton's people in Brussels.

But Ashton's spokesman told this website Eubam now plans to use just five Sectra phones because it "has … nothing to hide in its daily operations."

No sex please, we're the EU

In terms of Eubam staff conduct, the EU document calls for the "highest professional and personal standards" in order to create "trust in the EU."

It says Eubam people must not accept gifts, drink alcohol, smoke hashish or use "foul, obscene, vulgar or otherwise offensive" language.

It also forbids them from hiring prostitutes, especially if they are "trafficked persons," and from looking at pornography on their laptops.

Given the tricky sexual politics in the Islamic country, it adds that the "mission does not encourage the development of any relationship of a romantic or sexually intimate nature with persons from Libya."

But at the same time, it underlines that if a Eubam staff member is charged with a "serious crime," such as "rape" or "trafficking in human beings," they will be "repatriated" to their home country instead of facing justice in Libya.

If anything does go wrong, neither Libyans or Europeans are likely to find out.

The Eubam document notes that if staff talk to media without Hartikainen's permission it "will be considered a major breach of regulations."

It adds that whistleblowers are not welcome.

"In respect of the protection of the reputation and image of the EU … it is the right and obligation of staff members to report through the appropriate chain of command any cases of malpractice, corruption and incompetence."

It adds a few pages later that if a Eubam employee uncovers something "that may have serious implications for the mission" they "will not disclose that information to any other person other than his or her direct supervisor."

Correction: The original text said Eubam chief Hartikainen is being paid almost €320,000 a year. In fact, the figure is €250,000, as he is not entitled to a €184 daily allowance like his staff. Apologies

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