Sigonella Naval Air Station
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses personnel at the Sigonella Naval Air Station and NATO regional operations center in Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011 REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool

Italy began allowing armed American drones to fly out of the Sigonella air base in Sicily for defensive operations against the Islamic State group in Libya and North Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. U.S. authorities have been persuading Italy to let American forces to conduct such operations from the air base for over a year, the report added.

Italy will make a final call on allowing the U.S. drones to take off from the Sigonella air base case by case only if each mission is ready to protect personnel on the ground. American authorities are still trying to convince the Italian government to allow the drones for offensive actions such as the attack against a suspected military training camp near Sabratha, Libya, targeting a senior ISIS operative from Tunisia that killed dozens last week, the Journal reported.

Italian officials have been apprehensive about allowing the American drones to carry offensive operations from its Sicilian base fearing domestic antiwar opposition, especially in cases in which the Italians could be blamed for civilian casualties, U.S. officials told the newspaper. Rome also stated that it wants any drone strikes to target only non-Libyans to avoid stirring up political tensions in the region, the officials said.

Libya reportedly has about 3,000 ISIS fighters and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in January that military officials were planning to “take decisive military action” against ISIS.

The North African country has consistently witnessed chaotic civil war since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi five years ago. With two rival governments struggling to secure helm of the country and its vast oil fields, militant groups and terrorist organizations such as ISIS have exploited the opportunity to flourish.