U.S. military forces responded to a distress signal in the Mediterranean that resulted in the rescue of 131 migrants.
A U.S. Air Force drone conducting surveillance off the coast of North Africa located a distressed inflatable boat carrying migrants across the Mediterranean Sea, a press release reported.
The boat was deflating and its motor had died approximately 50 miles northwest of Misrata, Libya, tweets from Alarm Phone, a network advocating for the rescue of migrants in distress, reported.
The tweets also stated that none of the 131 migrants on board, including 13 minors, were wearing life jackets.
U.S. Air Forces Africa reported the incident to AFRICOM, where in-house Coast Guard expertise reached out to key agencies to respond.
“Our routine surveillance along the North Africa Coast gave us an opportunity to lend a helping hand,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM. “U.S. forces have a long-standing tradition of helping mariners in distress and providing humanitarian assistance.”
The Libyan Coast Guard eventually brought all of the migrants safely to shore in Tripoli, where teams from the International Organization for Migration were waiting to provide assistance.
Assets from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency were also involved in the rescue.
"This rescue operation, with coordination and assistance from U.S. European Command, was a team effort on behalf of people in distress. This rescue highlights the level of cooperation we've developed not only with our partners in Africa, but more broadly in the region," said Ambassador Andrew Young, deputy to the commander for civilian-military engagement, AFRICOM in a press release.
Unconvinced of the safety of the migrants returned to Libya, Alarm Phone tweeted, “While we are relieved that they survived, we fear for their lives in Libya, a warzone where torture, rape and imprisonment are systemic conditions.”
Libya has been a popular departure point for migrants since chaos and violence broke out after the death of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
So far this year, 5,775 migrants have been rescued and returned to Libya, IOM updates show. Last year that number totaled 9,225.
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.