EU launches naval operation in bid to curb Mediterranean migrant flow

Officials say plan will disrupt human-trafficking network rather than target migrants attempting to flee conflict

The EU has launched a concerted naval operation, likely to include the use of drones, in a bid to tackle human-traffickers bringing migrants from North Africa to Europe.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed senior EU diplomatic official as saying the operation would see five naval units led by the Italian light aircraft carrier Cavour deployed alongside two submarines, three maritime surveillance planes, two drones and two helicopters.

The campaign will be carried out in international waters and airspace until the EU can secure a UN Security Council resolution endorsing the effort.

It is also seeking permission from Libyan officials to enter their territory.

The UN has been reluctant to endorse the EU plan amid concerns taking naval action against the traffickers will trap migrants in areas of conflict and dire poverty, rather than tackle the root of the problem.

But Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, stressed the operation was intended to disrupt the people smuggling networks, not target the migrants who are ferried across the Mediterranean often in unseaworthy vessels.

"The targets are not the migrants," she said. "The targets are those that are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths."

The EU aims to "dismantle the business model" of the traffickers by destroying their boats, she said.

More than 100,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year, with some 2,000 dead or missing during the perilous quest to reach the continent.

Italy and Greece are bearing the brunt of the migrant influx.

The EU operation was officially launched by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg.

(Additional reporting by agencies)

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