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Armed US drones to use Sicily base for Libya operations

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Italy has agreed to allow American armed drones to use an airbase in its southern island of Sicily for military operations against alleged positions of Daesh Takfiri terrorists in Libya and across North Africa.

Rome and Washington reached the agreement last month after over a year of negotiations, an Italian Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Monday.

The drones had only been used for surveillance purposes until last month.

According to the deal, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) based at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily should be used only for defensive purposes to protect US special forces, the official said.

Permission will have to be sought from the Italian government each time the drones want to take off from the airbase to protect US army personnel.

“It’s fair to say that the Italians had to go through a complex approval process on their side in order to grant us approval to fly these missions,” a senior US defense official said.

Reports say the Pentagon is attempting to persuade the Italians to allow the drones to be used for offensive operations, too.

US officials are also seeking to establish a drone base in North Africa to put aircraft even closer to the area of operations and boost the efficiency and speed of drone raids, according to officials familiar with the matter. However, negotiations with other North African countries have not yielded any results yet.

 Daesh militants parade through Sirte, Libya, February 18, 2015. (AP)

Libya has been struggling with instability since 2011, when the country’s long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. Various militant groups have been fighting one another since then.

The capital Tripoli is controlled by a political faction called Libya Dawn, allied with powerful armed forces based in the city of Misrata. The faction has reinstated the old parliament, known as the General National Congress (GNC).

The internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni is based in the eastern city of Bayda, with its elected House of Representatives in Tobruk.

A UN-backed government of national unity is awaiting parliamentary approval. It has yet to establish itself in Tripoli.

Daesh, which has been engaged in heinous crimes in different parts of Iraq and Syria, has exploited the situation in the North African country to set up strongholds. According to the Pentagon, the notorious terror group has now an estimated 6,000 members in Libya, mostly concentrated in the northern coastal city of Sirte.

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