By Tom Kington
Military analysts are blaming Chinese-made drones for deadly missile strikes on Tripoli as Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar tries to conquer the city.
Aircraft seen circling over the Libyan capital during nighttime raids in recent days were likely Chinese Wing Loong II drones operated by the United Arab Emirates, which is backing Haftar’s bid to overthrow the United Nations-backed government in the city, analysts claimed.
“Buying drones from the U.S. takes time, is expensive and there is accountability, but buying Chinese drones is now cheap, fast and no one breathes down your neck — the floodgates are open,” said Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.
Emerging from the chaos in Libya after its leader Muammar Gadaffi was overthrown in 2011, Haftar established control over the eastern region of the country before launching a surprise attack on Tripoli four weeks ago.
The UAE previously supplied the general with air support from a base it set up at Al Khadim in eastern Libya in 2016, and its Chinese drones were reportedly used to strike Derna last year as Haftar battled Islamic militants there.
Following his attack against the Tripoli militias supporting U.N.-backed leader Fayez al-Sarraj, 376 people have died in Tripoli and 45,000 have fled, with air raids on Saturday night killing four.
“The fact the raids are at night, combined with eye witness reports, make it very likely these are the UAE’s Chinese drones,” said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi of the Royal United Services Institute in the U.K. “The UAE has also used them in Yemen, although there they coordinated with the U.S., while in Libya they are breaking a U.N. embargo on supplying arms to the country.”
A website published photos on Monday allegedly showing the remains of Chinese Blue Arrow 7 missiles, which can be fired from Wing Loong II drones, amid wreckage in Tripoli.
“It would be possible to fly these drones from Al Khadim, which is about 460 miles from Tripoli, with a pilot at the base, and a mobile ground station set up closer to Tripoli acting as a relay to enable the radio control of the drone,” said Justin Bronk, also with the Royal United Services Institute.
“The pilots will probably be UAE nationals,” he added.
Added Bassiri Tabrizi: “Another Syria now looks possible in Libya.”
Tom Kington Italy correspondent, The Times.