ROME (AP) — The Italian government is ready to "positively evaluate" any request for air base or airspace use in the U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya if that would yield "a more rapid and effective end" to the campaign, Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said Wednesday.
The minister spoke in response to questions in the Chamber of Deputies about the airstrikes, which began earlier this week.
She said the U.S. military action which began this week "will be limited in time and area of operation, doesn't foresee the use of ground forces and is limited to allowing the Libyan forces to successfully defeat the terrorist forces in the area of Sirte," a coastal city which had become an Islamic State stronghold.
"The government is ready to positively evaluate any request for use of bases and air space if that would be functional to a more rapid and effective conclusion to the operation underway," Pinotti said.
So far, the U.S. airstrikes haven't involved flights over Italian territory, she added.
Pinotti said Premier Matteo Renzi's government "contends that the success of the fighting aimed at eliminating terroristic centers of ISIS in Libya is of fundamental importance for the security not just of that country, but also of Europe and Italy."
A day earlier, Italy's foreign minister said stabilizing Libya would also help control the migrant crisis. Migrant smugglers have exploited conflict and chaos in Libya to launch boats from its long Mediterranean coast carrying hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other refugees from Africa and the Middle East toward Italian shores.
Renzi had stressed repeatedly that Italy would support anti-ISIS action in Libya only if the U.N.-brokered "unity" government requested such raids.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to open a new, more persistent front against IS insurgents in Libya after the internationally backed government asked for help with precision targeting inside Sirte.
Earlier this year, the Italian government had said armed U.S. drones could use the Sigonella base if needed to protect U.S. military forces in anti-IS strikes in Libya, but stressed it wouldn't allow the Sicilian base to be used for offensive purposes.