Middle EastWar

There are no Italian troops in Syria, defense ministry says

The deployment of Italian armed forces in foreign countries must be approved by Italy's parliament

Italian troops are not in Syria, a spokesperson for the Italy’s Ministry of Defense told The Defense Post, refuting media reports that Italian forces were deployed to Deir Ezzor province.

Citing “local sources,” Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu on Tuesday claimed that Italy had sent troops to Deir Ezzor province to “support the YPG/PKK terrorist group.” The report said Italian soldiers were sent to a “U.S. military base” in the al-Omar oilfields area, traveling via Hasakah.

Ankara sees the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as inextricably linked to the outlawed Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-led Coalition-supported Syrian Democratic Forces currently fighting against Islamic State in the last pockets it holds east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor near the Iraq border.

“The report about Italian troops in Syria is absolutely not true,” Lieutenant Colonel Massimo Carta, Head of Media Operations for the Italian Ministry of Defense, told The Defense Post.

“There aren’t any Italian troops employed in Syria,” Carta reiterated, adding that the deployment of Italian Armed Forces in foreign countries must be approved by the Italian parliament.

A spokesperson for the Coalition told The Defense Post: “Italy is not fighting in Dayr Az Zawr.”

Italy army counter-IED training Iraq
An Italian army trainer assigned to the 32nd Regiment Combat Engineer Alpine, deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve prepares detonation cord during counter improvised explosive device training for Coalition partners near Erbil, Iraq, November 5, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Tracy McKithern

Italy – a key member of the Coalition fighting ISIS

The Global Coalition Against ISIS describes Italy as “a leading contributor” to the Coalition.

“Italy is a key player in our ‘Enhance Partner Capacity’ programs with the Iraqi Security Forces,” the Coalition spokesperson said.

Operation Prima Parthica, Italy’s deployment to Iraq and Kuwait, supports Operation Inherent Resolve in a wide range of areas. According to the Coalition, 1,500 Italian military and police trainers are deployed in Iraq and they play key roles in training Iraqi forces, supporting the Mosul Dam project, and protecting cultural heritage.

Italy army trainer Iraq
An Italian army trainer assigned to 3rd Alpine Regiment, deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, gives instruction during basic infantry training for Coalition partner forces near Erbil, Iraq, December 4, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Tracy McKithern

Italian troops are deployed in Erbil, Mosul, Baghdad and at the air force base in Kuwait.

Italian army personnel train partner forces including Peshmerga and Iraqi Special Forces; Carabinieri train Iraqi police forces, specializing in human rights and the protection of cultural heritage; air force personnel conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations; and Italian navy personnel work in Coalition headquarters.

Italy also contributes staff officers, including Brigadier General Roberto Vannacci who is deputy commanding general for training, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

During a May press briefing Vannacci said Italian personnel are training army and police forces in the Kurdistan Region and in western Baghdad.

Italy army donates furniture to Iraq school
A local man and Italian army soldiers assigned to 3rd Alpine Regiment unload a truck full of school furniture donated from Italy to a primary school in the village of Babinet, Iraq, November 14, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Tracy McKithern

Perhaps most famously, Italy deployed 450 elite soldiers in 2016 to secure the strategic Mosul Dam while Italian engineering contractor Trevi repaired the critical resource that has been almost-continuously repaired since construction began in 1981.

The deployment came after fears were heightened that if the 113-meter dam broke, Mosul city might have been hit by a 20-meter high wave,  and that even Baghdad, more than 500 km (310 miles) away, may have been impacted.

Later that year, Italian investigative journalism website Wikilao reported that western intelligence agencies had intercepted information about an ISIS plot to attack the dam.

Italian troops still protect the dam.

There were also reports that Italian special forces advised Iraqi troops during the Battle of Ramadi.

Italy soldier at Iraq school
An Italian army soldier assigned to 3rd Alpine Regiment deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve tickles an Iraqi student at a primary school in the village of Babinet, Iraq, November 14, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Tracy McKithern

Italy also has 390 vehicles and 17 aircraft deployed to Operation Prima Parthica according to Amanda Lapo, a Research Analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Lapo writes that there is an ongoing progressive withdrawal of Italian forces from the region that will entail “the withdrawal of 700 troops and the reconfiguration of its air component” as Italy gradually refocuses overseas deployment to Africa.

Italy army trainer Iraq
An Italian army trainer assigned to 3rd Alpine Regiment deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve observes Coalition partner force members during a range qualification near Erbil, Iraq, December 6, 2017. Image: US Army/Sgt. Tracy McKithern

This story was updated on June 14 with comments from CJTF-OIR and additional background on the Italian deployment in Iraq

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