EU draws up options for boots on the ground in Libya

EU officials have drawn up plans to deploy European military observers to Libya if a cease-fire takes hold there — a potentially high-risk mission reflecting a drive by foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for the bloc to play a more active role beyond its borders.

A draft 10-page document prepared by the EU’s foreign policy arm and obtained by POLITICO sets out a range of options to bolster a cease-fire in the volatile North African country — from offering advice to a Libyan-led effort through to deploying a fully fledged EU Miltary and Observation Mission, complete with land and air elements.

The document even mentions the possibility of a military mission that would have the power to conduct its own operations in Libya, with up to two EU brigades comprising between 5,000 and 10,000 personnel in total. But the document says this option has been “excluded at this stage,” noting “the political and physical risks” of such an operation would be “far-reaching.”

However, some of the other options discussed in the paper would also carry major risks for the EU as a whole and for any personnel deployed to a country that has been riven by civil war for years.

“The threat level for EU military presence in Libya is assessed as very high,” says the draft, prepared by the European External Action Service (EEAS). “This is especially true for an EU Force positioning itself between the parties to the conflict. Due to the support provided by third states and proxies, the amount of military equipment available to both parties is significant.”