Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Tuesday that Italy has agreed to allow armed U.S. drones to fly out of an air base in Sicily on a case-by-case basis for defensive missions against Daesh militants in Libya and other countries in North Africa where the extremist group poses a threat.
“If it is a matter of operations against terrorists, against potential Islamic State attackers, there is a close relationship between us and the other allies, above all the Americans,” Renzi said in an interview with RTL radio.
The prime minister, who has repeatedly ruled out Italy’s direct participation in military strikes in Libya without the prompt request of a recognized government, said they would be authorized “case by case”.
An Italian defense ministry official said on Monday that the Italian government “balked” at a request by the US for the Sicilian base to be used for “offensive operations”, such as the ones conducted last week against an alleged training camp near the town of Sabratha in Libya that targeted senior Daesh militants and left dozens killed.
Italy will allow departures from the Sigonella base near Catania only if each mission’s aim is to protect personnel, the ministry official said, adding that no request had yet been made.
The US will have to secure permission from the Italian government each time it wants to release an armed drone and the missions will have to be limited to defensive strikes to protect Special Forces engaged in anti-Daesh missions. The drones are based at the Sigonella naval air station in Sicily, which is also a Nato and Italian air base.
Sigonella, located in eastern Sicily, is home to a U.S. Naval Air Station in addition to a base for the Italian Air Force. It is sometimes used for logistical support for American and other NATO forces.
Renzi said he favored a diplomatic response to ISIS, which has faced U.S.-led air strikes on the caliphate it has proclaimed across swathes of Iraq and Syria since 2014.
“But then, if we have proof that there are ‘kamikaze’ attackers preparing potential strikes, naturally Italy will do its part along with all the others,” he said.
Daesh is spreading turmoil across Libya, where two rival governments have been fighting for power since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, to establish bases and conduct raids both in Libya and in neighboring Tunisia.
U.S. officials have been trying to convince Italy to let them conduct such operations from the Sigonella air base for more than a year, the Wall Street Journal reported.