Rome: A large-scale deployment of Western troops in Libya is "unthinkable" and "absurd", Italy's Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Thursday.
"Can you imagine... what it means to intervene with a military occupation? It is unthinkable, it is absurd, no one has ever considered it," Pinotti told the private Canale 5 TV channel amid reports that special forces are already on the ground to fight the Islamic State militant group.
She declined to comment on a report by Le Monde newspaper of a secret French operation.
"Unilateral action has never helped Libya," Pinotti said in an apparent reference to air raids against then Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 that were initially conducted by France, Britain and the US.
"As soon as the Libyan government is installed and begins to stabilise the country, it will need security back-up such as trainers and protection forces, something Italy is willing to do," she added.
Libyan troops should fight on the ground against IS, but only upon the request of a national unity government, Pinotti said.
Lawmakers from Libya’s internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk have yet to hold a confidence vote on the proposed UN-backed unity government amid in-fighting and reports of threats against MPs.
The North African country has descended into chaos after the NATO-backed ouster of long-time dictator Gaddafi in 2011, with rivals governments in Tobruk and Tripoli, each backed by a multitude of militias.
IS, which has come under pressure in Syria and Iraq from the international coalition against it, has exploited the turmoil in Libya to expand its presence there and has recently threatened its oil installations.
Italy will allow armed US drones to depart from Sigonella air base in Sicily as part of defensive missions to protect special forces from IS attacks in North Africa, Premier Matteo Renzi said earlier this week.
Italy will authorise the defensive military strikes on a "case by case" basis, Renzi said in an interview on Tuesday with RTL radio.
A member of the anti-IS coalition and Libya's biggest buyer of oil and gas, Italy has a particular interest in defeating Islamist militias and stabilising its former colony, where the turmoil is fuelling the smuggling of tens of thousands of migrants to Europe across the Mediterranean.