US ‘could use Italian bases for Libya air raids if requested’

Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Wednesday that the US could use Italian bases for strikes against the Isis extremist group in Libya if requested, but stressed that the action has not so far involved Italy.

US 'could use Italian bases for Libya air raids if requested'
Italy's Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said the US could use Italian bases for air raids against Isis in Libya if requested. Photo: Armend Nimani/AFP

The US conducted a second straight day of air strikes on Isis positions in Sirte on Tuesday.

“The government is ready to make a positive assessment of an eventual request to use (Italian) bases and air space if it were functional to a more rapid and effective conclusion to the operation taking place,” Pinotti was cited by Ansa as saying during a question time session in the lower house of parliament.

“Up to now (the operation) has not involved Italy, neither logistically, nor in terms of flight our the national territory.”

US President Barack Obama defended the air campaign, saying defeating the jihadists there was in America's national interest.

The Isis bastion, located just across the Mediterranean from Europe, has been shaken by weeks of fierce clashes between jihadists and fighters allied to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The city, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli, has been controlled by Isis since June 2015, and its loss would be a major blow to the jihadists, who have faced a series of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

Forces loyal to the Tripoli-based GNA said on Tuesday they had gained full control of Al-Dollar, a central residential district in Sirte, after clashes that killed five of their members and wounded 17.

The announcement came after US aircraft launched five air strikes on Monday against “several targets in Sirte, hitting Isis members and vehicles”, the GNA forces said in a statement.

The Pentagon said the raids came in response to a request from Fayez al-Sarraj, the unity government chief.

The foreign ministry in Russia, which is carrying out anti-Isis strikes in Syria at the request of the Damascus regime, stressed the need for “close coordination (in) the efforts of all countries engaged in the battle against terrorism”.

The American raids were carried out at the request of Libyan authorities, it noted.

Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, spoke to Sarraj by phone on Tuesday and expressed Rome's appreciation for the GNA's “commitment against terrorism”, a statement said.

France reaffirmed its “full support” for Libya's unity government, while at the same time seeking to mend fences over the presence of French troops in the east of the conflict-ridden country.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, also speaking to Sarraj by telephone, “hailed the decision of the Libyan authorities to appeal for international aid”, the foreign ministry in Paris said.

Paris recognizes the GNA, but it also supports anti-Isis forces loyal to the parliament and government based in the east that are refusing to cede power to the UN-backed administration.