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Use our aid budget to stop people leaving Africa, says Defence Secretary in call to tackle the roots of the migrant crisis

OWoN: Instead of just taking never ending Welfare hits from gruesome people trafficking, we are now sending in Special Forces to smash the gangs at source and kill our problem.

Hundreds of migrants in a wooden hulled ship after being handed life jackets by Royal Navy personnel from HMS Bulwark (pictured in the background). It is set to be replaced on rescue missions by ship half the size

Use our aid budget to stop people leaving Africa, says Defence Secretary in call to tackle the roots of the migrant crisis

  • UK to reduce efforts to rescue migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya
  • 'Better intelligence' needed on smuggling gangs making money from trade
  • Special Forces set to take lead in military operations targeting traffickers

Mail Online
By David Williams
21 June 2015

Britain will significantly scale back its efforts to rescue desperate migrants taking boats from Libya to Europe and instead send in elite forces to smash the trafficking gangs.

EU ministers are expected to launch the next phase of the mission to stop the migrant crisis following high-level talks on Monday in Luxembourg, it has emerged.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK needed to ‘get to grips’ with the problem and build up ‘better intelligence’ on the smuggling gangs making money from the trade.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said the UK needed to 'get to grips' with the migrant problem by building up 'better intelligence' on smuggling gangs making money from the trade

Special Forces will be sent to spearhead military operations targeting the traffickers under proposals being drawn up for ministers.

Under the plan, the SAS will work with specialist forces from other EU countries to help pinpoint the leaders of ruthless gangs, the vessels they are using and the routes taken.

Initially, they will provide ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance’, but they could then be tasked with ‘disrupting and destroying’ vehicles, ships and boats.

If approved, it would mean British boots on the ground in an area where six SAS men were captured during an operation in 2011, months before the death of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.

The proposal comes as the Royal Navy is set to significantly reduce its role in tackling the crisis. The Government announced HMS Bulwark, the former flagship, would be replaced by HMS Enterprise, a survey vessel just half the size, next month.

HMS Bulwark, weighing 19,000 tonnes, can carry up to 1,000 migrants at any one time – but HMS Enterprise will only be able to take 120 at a push.

Rescued migrants safely onboard HMS Bulwark after Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean on June 7. It can carry 1,000 migrants at any one time – but replacement HMS Enterprise will only manage 120

The assault ship with 325 crew, a flight deck space, and a landing dock for Royal Marines, will be replaced at the beginning of July as it returns to the UK for maintenance.

Enterprise is a survey vessel with 48 crew and has space for a single motor boat and helicopter landing pad.

Two of the three Merlin helicopters used to spot overcrowded vessels carrying the migrants will also return to the UK – leaving just one to fly off another nation’s boat.

A defence source said: ‘We are moving away from rescuing people and moving towards the next phase which will be intelligence gathering.’ More than 2,000 migrants have already died this year making the perilous journey and the significant reduction in capability will fuel fears that many more migrants will die.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will today attend talks in Luxembourg with other EU ministers to discuss how to tackle the growing crisis.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Mr Fallon said: ‘European ministers are looking this week at the next phase of this operation, which is building up better intelligence, of who these gangs are, where the boats are setting off from.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will today attend talks in Luxembourg with other EU ministers to discuss how to tackle the growing crisis

‘There’s got to be a much more comprehensive approach, talking the problem much further back, dealing with the trafficking gangs, building up information about the people who are making money out of this incredibly dangerous journey.’

One plan being discussed by ministers is to use drones to identify boat yards and ‘boarding points’ so that empty vessels can be bombed by warplanes before they go to sea.

However there is concern that migrants could be used as ‘human shields’ to prevent air attacks, which would only be launched with UN approval and once there was confirmation no civilians were near the vessels.

Mr Fallon added: ‘We can pool the intelligence we all have as European countries on these trafficking gangs.

‘We can get information about the routes… we can use our overseas aid budget… to help stabilise some of the counties and discourage this mass migration.’

He said traffickers were ringing up the Italian coast guards and telling them when the boats were setting off.

He added: ‘We need to get to grips with the operation itself and start to tackle the trafficking routes further back.

‘We are working for a political settlement… so we have a partner to deal with, to encourage a policy of return, to get people to return.

‘We have to break the link between rescuing people from the Med and settlement, because they will keep coming if they think they are going to be settled.’

Asked if there would be a blockade set up with ships across the Libyan coastline to prevent those leaving, he said: ‘That’s a matter for Europe to look into… that’s a difficult operation.’

Officials said that plans being drawn-up for the second phase of the operation could involve putting a ‘policing force’ in to Libya that would be military-led and would include troops from the UK.

Financial incentives would be offered to Libya to form a special force, which the EU policing team could train to stop the smugglers.

But any such plan in a region pitted with militia and Islamist groups would be fraught with potential dangers.


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